Reviewed September 29th, 2001 by David Nusair
Ever wonder what being a thief is like? Michael Mann did, and wrote / directed this movie.
James Caan stars as Frank, a career criminal who's getting tired of taking down scores. He wants to settle down with his wife (Tuesday Weld) and start a family. One day, though, a local criminal big-shot (Robert Prosky) offers Frank an unbelivable amount of money for a fairly routine robbery. Frank can't resist and decides this'll be his swan song. Of course, these things don't always work out as planned.
As slick as the movie is, it suffers from overlength. I think the reason that Mann's Heat was so successful (at a running time of three hours, no less) has to do with the multiple storylines. Here, it's just Frank's story. And while he's an interesting guy - Caan brings a lot of depth to the character - he's not compelling enough to warrent an entire movie.
The subplot following Frank's pursuit of the Weld character is interesting, though not terribly believable. She's working as a coat-check girl at a bar when Frank meets her. He schedules a date, and shows up two hours late. Despite her protests, he literally drags her out of the meeting place kicking and screaming, takes her to a restaurant and tells her all about his sad life, and she's hooked. I'm not sure if a woman would be immediately won over just because the guy's had a depressing life. Nevertheless, their relationship is the core of the film, as it gives Frank the reason he's been looking for to quit the life.
Mann hired real life thieves to add authenticity to the film, and it shows. The opening sequence that has Frank and his buddies stealing diamonds is very effective. Each man has their own role to play, and Caan's is to drill open a safe. Not as easy as one might think, we watch as he struggles with the safe. This was interesting, as was a similar scene towards the end of the movie, but perhaps a post-mortem explanation of how their system works would have been helpful. An understanding of what happened is there, but I was curious to know more about how the tools they used work.
Thief could also be called ďEverything You Always Wanted to Know About Stealing Diamonds, but Were Afraid to Ask. And on the basis of that (and Caan's amazing performance), Thief is a film worth watching.
Audio: Thief is presented with a new DD 5.1 soundtrack (or so the case says), and generally, itís not bad. This wonít exactly blow you away, but it has its moments. Check out the first scene, in which Caan has to break into a safe, for an example of how spatial this track gets (translation: it doesnít). But itís adequate and itís surely better than a 2.0 track.
Video: But somewhere below adequate is where this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer resides. The whole thing just looks soft, with fast motions in darkness having a shadowy effect. This is just bad Ė the only time the transfer looks decent is when thereís no movement on screen (a scene next to the water looks pretty good, but thatís basically in comparison to the rest of it).
Extras: Besides a letterboxed trailer, the only extra is a commentary with James Caan and Michael Mann. While they do drop some informative tidbits, the majority of the track alternates between long periods of silence or the two sharing memories without bothering to explain them. Letís put it this way: If youíre not a fan of the film, this commentary track ainít gonna change your mind.
Michael Mann has since done some much better movies (Heat and The Insider), but Thief is definitely a worthy predecessor to those films.
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