Like the masterful McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Thieves Like Us finds Robert Altman taking a revisionist look at America's past; also like McCabe, it is rhythmically lyrical, visually beautiful (even when its surroundings fail to be "pretty"), and compassionate yet pitiless in its portrayal of misfits and losers on the wrong side of the law. Altman flawlessly evokes the languid pace and hazy, decaying beauty of the Deep South. While Thieves Like Us has more than a few parallels to Bonnie and Clyde and to Nicholas Ray's 1949 They Live By Night, based on the same novel, Altman finds a distinctive poetry and tragedy in the story, and its effects linger in the memory long after the film is over. In one of the least glamorous love stories in 1970s cinema, Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall are ideal as Bowie and Keechie, and Altman makes several other inspired casting choices: John Schuck, often a comic-relief lummox, is electrifying as the violently short-tempered Chickamaw; Bert Remsen is right on target as the tragically short-sighted veteran criminal T-Dub, and future Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, in only her second film role, is superb as Mattie, both benefactor and nemesis to the thieves. Along with Nashville and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us ranks with the best of Altman's work.
by Mark Deming review