Thief (1981)

Genres - Crime, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Thriller, Post-Noir (Modern Noir), Caper  |   Run Time - 130 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Michael Costello

Michael Mann's directorial debut is an electrifying profile of a professional thief trying to pull one last job so that he can retire. James Caan stars as Frank, the 40-something diamond thief and ex-con looking to achieve at least a semblance of a normal life. To that end he romances Tuesday Weld while contracting with local mob kingpin Robert Prosky to execute a major heist. Except for his role in Misery (1990), Caan has never had a better leading part in his career, and following a string of bad films, he obviously realized how good an opportunity this was. He inhabits the character of the tough-talking, ruthlessly efficient professional effortlessly, layering in an obsession with white-picket-fence life that would border on the comic were it not so grim. Indeed, the highlight of the film is a weird marriage proposal in which the thief shows his new girlfriend a battered fetish object, a collage he's assembled in prison that represents his idealized normal life complete with photos of a house, children, and a wife. The scene is at once touching, funny, and bizarre. Mann has clearly done his homework on the world of high-tech thievery, and the lengthy heist scenes have a satisfying thoroughness reminiscent of such classics as Rififi. The film is also helped enormously by the insistent, pulsating score of Tangerine Dream. Beside Prosky, the film includes a number of Chicago area veterans in its talented cast, including Dennis Farina, Jim Belushi, Tom Signorelli, and Del Close.