Thief (1981) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
122 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
A thrilling, underrated gem ahead of its time
mbanwait23 October 2010
I've always been impressed by Micheal Mann's films. Starting with The Insider, I was intrigued by his camera-work and the use of music to compliment a scene.

With Thief, his directorial debut, he shows what movie fans will be in store for over the 30 years. Of course some of the techniques to steal are dated, but I loved the glossy, yet gritty atmosphere of the film. Tuesday Weld, was also quite good as Caan's love interest. It has an amazing ending as well.

The film is Waaaaaaay ahead of its time. And I was genuinely impressed with James Caans performance. This film is an underrated gem and should be viewed by Mann fans who liked Heat and Collateral.

18 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of My All Time Faves - But the original is gone I suspect
Ted Moran27 March 2006
Saw this in the theater at it's release. Went back the next weekend and scenes were cut. They remain cut in every version I've seen since. Frank snaps chalk lines off traces of blueprints onto the safe face in the opening heist. Guess the crime commission didn't dig that, 'cause that 5 seconds is history in every cut I've seen since. How do the boys and their gear get up on the roof of the bank building? Rocket assisted grappling hook mortars firing mountain lines and Jumar ascenders from the parking lot. You won't see that scene anymore, either. Man, I miss the Corned Beefs at the Belden Deli on Clark where Frank hands the stones to Gags. Long gone. But if you are in Chicago, stop in early at the Green Mill and you might be able to have a drink in that big, round wood booth - still there. Great gun & car flick. Frank's .45 looks like a Bomar Svenson custom combat, tremendous. Watch for the High Standard 12 guage stakeout special at the end - very rare. Take a drive up north on Western Avenue to check out all the used car lots - still there. Great locations. Yup, the creme was ALWAYS cottage cheese at the old Oasis restuarants. Yuch! You know - Tuesday Weld actually even ACTS a little in this movie, amazing. Man that was a gorgeous house in my old neighborhood and yes they blew it up. Notice when they are snuggling on the outdoor patio - it had a two-sided fireplace - indoor and outdoor. Probably the best Chicago movie ever. The phone book and trash can - time honored tools of the early 80's. When I saw it opening night the theater was filled with every crook and detective on the north side with their wives. And everybody just nodded to each other on the way out. Those days are gone but not forgotten. Great, great flick. Cool TD soundtrack album, too. Also probably the best metallurgical movie ever. I want Frank's coat.
99 out of 113 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Michael Mann's best movie, with James Caan' best performance. 'Thief' is a hardboiled crime classic not to be missed!
Infofreak11 March 2003
'Thief' is one of the most underrated movies of the 1980s, if not of all time. Made in the early 80s by TV veteran Michael Mann, and co-produced by the future "king" of action blockbusters Jerry Bruckheimer, this movie can almost be seen as the transition from 1970s character based crime DRAMA to 1980s flashy but brainless 1980s crime ACTION. In that sense 'Thief' is the last great 1970s movie of the 1980s. Mann made at least two great movies after this ('Manhunter' and 'Heat'), but I still think it is is his best and most satisfying work. James Caan believes that the movie contains his finest performance and I'm inclined to agree with him. Caan is dynamite throughout. He oozes charisma and is impossible to take your eyes off, but also gives a subtle and complex performance. The film works both as an exciting caper movie, and as a human drama. In many ways it is the best crime film to pull that off since Dassin's 'Rififi' in the mid 1950s. Cann is helped by a superb supporting cast, who on the surface may seem a motley bunch, but all are very good - Tuesday Weld ('Who'll Stop The Rain'), Jim Belushi (his movie debut), a memorable cameo from country legend Willie Nelson, and especially a fantastic turn from Robert Prosky. Prosky is probably best known to most viewers as the kindly father-figure he played in 'Hill Street Blues'. His turn here as a ruthless gangster is a complete eye opener! Prosky delivers one of the most vicious lines ever heard in a movie, which is a bit too extreme for me to quote here, but believe me, you will never forget it when you hear it! Many people seem to find Tangerine Dream's dated synth score to be extremely irritating but I actually enjoyed it and thought it helped build the mood. 'Thief' is a hardboiled crime classic and is highly recommended to any fan of the genre, especially those made in the 1970s. It is wildly underrated and deserves to be rediscovered by a larger audience. 'Thief' is simply one of THE great "lost" classics of the last thirty years.
99 out of 115 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
a real classic!
dtucker8621 October 2001
Even though this film was made only a little over two decades ago, I consider it a film-noir classic! James Caan said once that this was the film he was in that he was proudest of next to The Godfather. I remember that Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel said this was one of the finest films of 1981. Caan is wonderful in a role that he was born to play, a tough guy with his heart on his sleeve. Everything about this film is wonderful from the musical score by Tangerine Dream to the dark lighting effects to the authentic detail about the life of a thief ( I read that Michael Mann actually used real life thieves as technical advisors to this film!). Even though Caan's character is an anti-hero, you have to feel sorry for him because he is caught in a situation where there is no way out! The best scene in the film is where he tells Tuesday Weld about his prison experiences and shows here the picture cut out that he has made of his American dream. Jimmy Caan is truly awesome, he is the only actor that ever made me cry (in Brian's Song) I also wanted to mention another great character actor who is in the film. His name is Robert Prosky and he plays the mob boss who uses Caan. This was his film debut after many years as a stage actor and he is terrific. Watch the scene in the acid plant where he threatens Caan. He is really chilling! Michael Mann created Crime Story and Miami Vice and he also directed Manhunter, but lets not forget this film as well.
58 out of 66 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
When James Caan was allowed to be real!
SomeUselessGeek4 May 2010
This is one of the few Michael Mann films I can stand to watch. Caan is at his absolute peak here, with his intensity just blazing off the screen. The supporting cast is excellent, the edits are perfect, everything just clicks.

As has been noted by other reviewers, the technical aspects of this film are right on the money. All the locations are really there (or were at one time) and the settings didn't have to be faked up. Yes, Chicago and surrounding Chicagoland is really like this, folks.

I try to watch this thing every few years. Should buy a DVD, I guess, and insert it into my permanent circular film buffer.

Highly, highly recommended.
25 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Movie Review: Thief (1981)
The King Bulletin18 August 2009
Thief, made way back in 1981, was Michael Mann's directorial debut and it is a fascinating heist film that has a lot more to it than you might think. Sure, it is a movie about a professional jewel thief, and there are extended sequences throughout the film depicting his expertise; however, I think the core of this movie is about relationships. It's about the type of relationships a person needs to have in order to live a rewarding life.

James Caan stars as the expert thief named Frank. Caan gives a remarkable performance in the title role creating a multi-layered character that is rarely seen in these types of movies. The movie shows us just how good Frank is at his job in the opening scene by showing him cracking a safe with tremendous ease. However, after he finishes the job, we see that there is more to Frank than just a jewel thief. He owns a car dealership and a restaurant, and he also makes a promise to break his mentor and father figure, Okla (Willie Nelson), out of prison. But to complete the picture, Frank needs a woman. In the memorable diner sequence, Frank opens his heart to a virtual stranger (Tuesday Weld) and they eventually get married.

Frank needs these relationships to be able to move on from his passion for theft and live a controlled, settled-down life style. In order to be able to retire much sooner, Frank sets up one more job with a powerful crime boss named Leo (Robert Prosky). Leo appears to be nice on the outside and tries to take Frank under his wing, but when Frank stays true to his desire of getting in and getting out, things take a turn for the worse.

This is a rare thriller film that has a lot of character development and also retains a fast pace throughout. From the great performances to the breathtaking score by Tangerine Dream, this is a film that is full of Mann trademarks from start to finish. It is one of his best works to date that is even good enough to draw inevitable comparisons to his future films such as Heat, Manhunter, and Public Enemies.

The only thing that disappointed me in this film was the ending. While I applaud the film for not choosing to travel the "happily ever after" route, I still don't think the movie ended on quite the right note. Even though the final sequence is a heart-pounding sequence of cat and mouse, I'm not sure it did justice to the relationships and the development that Frank's character made and experienced throughout the film.

This is a film that was not initially successful in commercial terms, but as Mann's name has turned into one that is synonymous with crime sagas, the film's popularity has increased since its initial theatrical release. A lot of that is due to the performance of James Caan, which is as good as anything he has ever done. He creates, in my opinion, one of the best characters ever to be featured in a Mann film. The movie is so smart and professionally made that it is definitely a film that anyone would enjoy. Ranking among Mann's best all-time work, Thief is a mesmerizing entry in the crime genre.
26 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
You are making big profits from my work, my risk, my sweat.
Spikeopath12 September 2015
Thief is written and directed by Michael Mann, who adapts the screenplay form the novel "The Home Invaders" written by Frank Hohimer. It stars James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky, James Belushi and Willie Nelson. Music is by Tangerine Dream and cinematography by Donald Thorin.

Frank (Caan) is a tough ex-con and expert jewel thief. He's working his way out to a normal life, but after being lured to a big job for the mob, he finds plans on both sides severely altered.

For his first full length theatrical feature, Michael Mann announced himself to the film world with some distinction, and in the process showed everyone what style of film making makes him tick. Thief is a film of stylised grit, visually, thematically and narratively. Set and filmed in Chicago, Mann, aided by Thorin, shoots the story through pure neo-noir filters.

At nighttime it is all a beautifully neon drenched haze, where the streets shimmer with dampness, a dampness brought about by the rain and god knows what else! By day there's a sweaty hue, a feeling that the heat is well and truly on, that even in daylight Frank isn't safe, his dreams may be a touch too far to reach. And no matter what the scene or scenario, Tangerine Dream are laying over the top a throbbing pulse beat, it's like The Warriors trying to get back to Coney Island, the music has a sense of dread about it, that danger is at every corner.

This part of Chicago stinks, it's a vile and corrupt place. Dirty cops everywhere, underworld criminals ruling the roost - Hell! You can even buy a baby if you want one. Is it any wonder that Frank just wants to settle down with a wife and child, to walk barefooted in the sea, to have domesticity? But Frank, as smart, tough and savvy as he is, seems to thrive on the edge of things, with Mann giving him earthy and honest dialogue to engage us with, marking him out as an identifiable every man protagonist who just happens to be an exceptional thief.

Mann's attention to detail is on show straight away, none more so than with the two key safe cracking jobs that are undertaken. Using genuine jewel thieves as technical advisers on the film, these sequences ooze realism, from the tools used, the pre-planning and the execution of the takes, it smacks of reality and does justice to the genuine feel of the characterisations brought alive by the superb cast. And finally Mann delivers a finale of ambiguity, a noir shaded piece of abruptness, an ending that perfectly fits the whole production. 9/10
9 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Michael Mann's Thief Steals the Show
arthurclay20 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The movie that started his career and what a way to start. Realism is played out to the hilt and nothing is left to chance with this brilliant book to movie adaptation. James Caan is at the top of his game and wows you. Caan is Frank, a professional safe-cracker who is successful and single. After pulling a heist, he finds himself in a unique position. A powerful boss offers Frank phenomenal jobs and a huge cut of the action if he will work for him and for him exclusively. Frank is impressed by his stature and agrees. However, the local crooked cops turn up the heat on Frank and want in. And Frank's new crime family wants more than his services. So Frank is forced to fight back and prove he is not only the best thief but the toughest crook in Chicago. The supporting cast was hand picked and it's easy to tell. I never thought I would hear myself say this but Willie Nelson does a fine job acting at least in this. Same goes, of course, to Jim Belushi. I have surprised myself twice in two sentences. James Caan really convinces you he is the real deal and it's the role of a lifetime. His acting is second to none and perhaps the best of the three signature Michael Mann anti-heroes. What surprised me the most about this movie was not just the realism of it but that the love interest side of the story was convincing as well. That came as quite a shock to this viewer. He does love and care for his wife and she loves him without reservation. It makes the ending all the more tragic. This film needs to be viewed by anyone who enjoys crime films, mob films, or Mann films. My favorite movie of 1981.
20 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Excellent character drama is worth watching for Caan's superb performance.
Lucien Lessard23 November 2007
Frank (James Caan) is a professional thief, who enjoys doing high profile jobs. He also owns an restaurant and sales cars for a living. He's tired of his other life as a thief. He hopes to settle down by having a wife, a family and a house. When he's been contacted by a mysterious business man (Robert Prosky). Which this man is the local crime boss of Chicago, who wants him to do a big score for him by robbing Diamonds. Once he succeed from his job, which Frank was hoping to be last job. But the mob boss turns on his back and treating his life by working for him until he dies. If Frank doesn't work for his boss, he will kill his wife (Tuesday Weld), his best friend (James Belushi) and destroy his entire life.

Written and Directed by Michael Mann (Ali, Heat, The Keep) made an stylish character drama is that extremely well directed and acted by the cast. Caan's performances makes this fascinating film works. It's certainly one of his best roles to date. The supporting cast are excellent as well, including Willie Nelson in a small role. This film was a box office disappointment, when it was first released. Now it's a cult classic... largely because of Mann's visual style, the performance, excellent cinematography by Donald E. Thorin (Midnight Run, Mischief, Tango & Cash) and Tangerine Dream's electronic score (Firestarter, Risky Business, Socerer). Look for some familiar faces as extras and bit-parts. Based on a novel by "The Home Invaders" by Frank Hohimer. Big time Hollywood Producer:Jerry Bruckheimer (Beverly Hills Cop, Black Hawk Down, The Rock) is one of the producers of this picture. This is a underrated movie worth seeing. (****/*****).
19 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Michael Mann's Masterpiece
marquis de cinema16 February 2001
Thief(1981) contains the best performance of James Caan as a professional thief in a rare leading role. He is complex and three deminsional as the protagonist, Frank. Thief(1981) is similar in many ideas to the Dustin Hoffman film, Straight Time(1977). One of the best directorial debut as Michael Mann gives a realistic portrayal of the hardships in being a professional thief. The movie does a good job in showing the corruption that Frank has to go against.

Its much better than Heat(1995) because it focuses on one person instead of trying to interweave in confusing detail the lives of two people who are opposite in job but the same in spirit. Willie Nelson is terrific in the small of of Frank's mentor, Okla. Robert Prosky is impressive as the father like crime boss, Leo. The heist scenes are the highlight of the film. Thief(1981) has to be one of the best movies to come out during the 1980s and is definitely the director's top film.
51 out of 69 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Abandoned Principles & A Cherished Ambition
seymourblack-117 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This cool, slick and often violent crime drama is gritty, tense and action-packed. It's also, however, a story which features a selection of fascinating characters that are brought to life convincingly by a fine cast of actors who make everything that transpires seem totally authentic. The use of ex-criminals in certain roles and some great hardboiled dialogue, also add to the realistic style of the whole production.

"Thief" is a movie that looks particularly good. The night-time scenes which feature rainy streets, neon lights and vivid colours are awesome and the brilliant synth score by Tangerine Dream is perfectly fitted to the tense, urban environment in which the action is played out.

Frank (James Caan) is a highly-skilled jewel thief who was state raised and spent eleven years in prison before achieving success in his chosen profession. In prison he benefited from the guidance of his mentor Okla (Willie Nelson) and also learnt that in order to survive in his business, it's essential to have no fear and to show no signs of vulnerability. This belief had made Frank fiercely independent and his only trusted friend and collaborator is Barry (James Belushi), who's a security equipment expert.

Frank runs into a problem when his regular fence is murdered and some money that's owed to him is missing. During his pursuit of the money, he crosses paths with a Chicago crime boss called Leo (Robert Prosky) who sets up heists and employs people to carry them out. As an admirer of Frank's work, Leo promises him the opportunity to become a millionaire in just four months if he works for him. Although impressed by the rewards on offer, Frank is reluctant to go against his principles and team up with Leo.

Frank privately longs for a conventional lifestyle and when he meets Jessie (Tuesday Weld) who's an attractive cashier at a diner, the potential value of Leo's offer starts to become more appealing. Frank reasons that if he could do one major job for Leo, he could then retire and settle down to a happy family life. Unfortunately, after Frank carries out a robbery for Leo, what follows doesn't correspond with Frank's vision and violent consequences ensue.

James Caan is marvellous as the tough professional who's persuaded to abandon his long-held principles in order to achieve a cherished ambition and Robert Prosky is fantastic as the ultra-manipulative crime boss who is seemingly calm and helpful but also has an immense capacity for violence. Willie Nelson makes an extraordinary impact in his relatively minor role as someone who means a great deal to Frank and Tuesday Weld is convincingly streetwise and empathetic as the woman in whom Frank confides.

"Thief" was Michael Mann's first feature film and as well as being technically impressive and exciting to watch, it contains a certain level of humanity that distinguishes it from the majority of similar thrillers.
5 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Michael Mann crime classic, and the genesis of his artistic style
NateWatchesCoolMovies28 April 2015
With Thief, Michael Mann distilled his crime film style into an archetypal, haunting aura that would go on to influence not only his excellent later work, but other filmmakers as well, everything from Refn's Drive to the police procedural we see on television today. A style that consists of kaleidoscope neon reflections in rain slicked streets, Chrome cars bulleting through restless urban nocturnes and a lyrical, pulsating score, here provided by underrated German electronic maestros Tangerine Dream, who would go on to provide their dulcet tones for Mann's phenomenal 1983 The Keep. Thief weaves the age old tale of a master safe cracker(James Caan in a beautifully understated performance) the high stakes at risk of him performing one last job to escape, with said stakes represented as his angelic wife (Tuesday Weld) and newborn son. Robert Prosky in his film debut is a serpentine wonder as Leo, Caan's boss, whose chilling metamorphosis from paternal employer to domineering monster is a joy to watch. The jewel heist scenes are shot with a researched, assured and authentic feel, spurred on by Tangerine Dreams cosmic rhythms and are especially dynamic points of the film. Thief, for me, belongs that special subcategory of Mann's career along with Heat, Miami Vice and Collateral, (Public Enemies doesn't get to come in this elite cinematic treehouse club, it didn't do anything for me) that are very special crime films. They possess an intangible, ethereal quality of colour, metal, music, and shady people moving about a thrumming urban dreamscape, professionals at what they do, cogs in the ticking clock of crime that inexorably drives toward the narrative outcome, be it bitter confrontation and violence (of which Thief has an absolute gorgeous, poetic revenge sequence) or cathartic resolution (like the conventionally satisfying way Collateral ends). Mann has captured neon lightning in a bottle with Thief, and against the odds of people saying you can't catch lightning twice, he has spark plugged a good portion of his career with that same lightning, creating an artistic aesthetic all his own. To me that is the ultimate outcome of filmmaking, and art as a medium.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Sublime Mann & Caan character study of a career criminal
george.schmidt23 April 2003
THIEF (1981) *** James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, James Belushi, Robert Prosky. Michael Mann's atmospheric and realistic profile of a seasoned professional thief (Caan in a brilliant turn) out for one lucrative score with a dream to lead a normal life with some dire circumstances standing in the way. Great production design and waycool score by Tangerine Dream.

Excellent photography and a genuine storyline since copied to death. A small gem of a film. Noteworthy: look quick for Dennis Farina and John Santucci who would star in Mann's tv series "Crime Story' and William L. Petersen as a bar room bouncer who'd collaborate with Mann in 'Manhunter".
19 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Mann is the man!
Kristine29 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I came across this movie because of my boyfriend, he swore that this ending was one of the best endings in a movie he had ever seen. But being the ultimate film buff and being a fan of James Caan, I wanted to see the whole movie, so we watched it together. This is a tight and suspenseful thriller that is like a little gem of 1981. James Caan is such a terrific actor, so I was interested in seeing him in a lead role to see if he could carry a movie by himself and he did do an excellent job. Michael Mann, this is one of his first movies, so it's really cool to see where he has come from and even back in 1981, he had this definite talent that has taken him so far. The story may be a bit basic, the rise and fall of someone who has hit the top, but once they want to pull away, it starts to crumble. But if told in the right way, we can get a terrific film and Thief proves itself to be a good thriller.

Frank is an expert jewel thief and hard-boiled ex-convict with a set structure to his life. With a pair of successful Chicago businesses as fronts for his very lucrative criminal enterprise, Frank sets out to fulfill the missing part of his dream: a family beginning with Jessie. After taking down a major score, Frank's fence is murdered. He finds out that the man responsible is a Mr. Attaglia, a shady plating company executive for whom the fence was working. Attaglia is in possession of money that belongs to Frank, who demands it back. This leads to a face-to-face meeting with Attaglia's employer, Leo, a high-level fence and crime boss, who wants Frank to work for him, offering him "boxcar" profits. Frank is reluctant at first, but wanting to make his dream come to fruition faster, he agrees to do just one job. But after the job is done, Frank soon realizes that Leo is not so easy to let him go.

The only complaint is pretty minor, I was a little stumped by the movie's soundtrack, it did throw me off a bit. But I think that's all part of the 80's films genre, very odd music in the background. It's all good, we have a terrific supporting cast with Robert Prosky, James Belushi and Tuesday Weld, even Willie Nelson pulls in a good strong supporting role. The whole atmosphere and the strong direction by Mann pulls this movie together very well. I'd say one of the strongest scenes is the face off between Frank and Leo, when Frank is excited that he's completed his last assignment and Frank wants to just mainstream into a normal life but Leo is not going to let him go, the tension was so high and created so well by the actors. It's a very dark and suspenseful film that I have to admit that I enjoyed over all, I would recommend it.

6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The thief from Chicago
jotix10011 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Mann's debut film shows signs of greatness and what would follow. Mr. Mann is a man that knows how to get the best out of his movies, as he clearly shows in the 1981 "Thief". His adaptation of Frank Hohimer's "The Home Invaders" proved to be the right choice. Mr. Mann has to be congratulated about the atmosphere he created for the film and the brilliant music score by Tangerine Dream.

The film concentrates in Frank, the professional thief at the center of the action. Frank is a complex character. He has been in prison, but has no intention of ever going back. If the caper one witnesses at the start of the film was amazing, Mr. Mann had a bigger surprise for us in what Frank and his crew achieve with the job they pull at the end of the film! Frank seems to be a loner. When he meets Jessie, he goes too rough on her, denoting he might like women, but he doesn't know how to treat a wounded soul like this beautiful lady. The scene where Frank takes Jessie into the all night diner, and speak frankly to her, has an improvised look. Whether the director encouraged his star to do so, one will never know, but that's the way it struck us.

Frank's association with the fatherly mob figure Leo proves to be something he wouldn't normally do. Frank attracts, as a result of this partnership, the corrupt cops from Chicago. They know he is hiding behind the car dealer's front and want to shake him up. Frank is way too cool to have anything to do with them, which infuriates these bad detectives following him.

The final scenes show how Frank outfoxes Leo. He has to act tough in order to get Jessie to leave with the infant. Right after that we are treated at a few bombings as Frank is erasing his trail. The final moments at Leo's home is well paced with the violence exploding to a crescendo as we watch how Frank confronts Leo's gang.

James Caan has one of the best moments of his long and distinguished career playing Frank. The actor, under the guidance of Mr. Mann, gives what might be, the performance of his lifetime. Mr. Caan's instincts plays a big dividend. He makes Frank a likable man on the wrong side of the law.

Robert Prosky plays Leo with great panache. This cunning old man feels he can get away with swindling a thief, but in the end, he is proved wrong. Mr. Prosky, a distinguished theater actor, makes an invaluable contribution to the film.

Tuesday Weld, as Jessie, doesn't have too much to do, since the emphasis is on showing Frank. Ms. Weld is not seen as much as one would like to, and it's a shame because she is an intelligent presence in whatever she plays. James Belushi is right in his part. Willie Nelson shows up briefly in a couple of good scenes.

Mr. Mann's film debut heralded there would be better things coming, although if he had only directed "The Thief", he could have felt satisfied of what he accomplished.
14 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Particularly notable for the technical accuracy...
innocuous1 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Don't you hate films where the technically impossible (or ludicrous) is offered up for your consumption by directors too lazy to do research? You know the movies I'm talking about...conspiracy buffs remotely tap into cameras that aren't even connected to a WAN, fixed video cameras automatically pan and tilt to follow the action, computer viruses easily jump from operating system to operating system, visible pencil-thin laser beams in place of photoelectric detection systems, and so forth, and so on...

Part of my job is to design security and surveillance systems. In fact, I even teach courses on alarm system history and the fundamentals of alarm systems. So take it from me, this film is about as accurate as it gets.

******MINOR SPOILERS!********

Take, for example, the scene where Jim Belushi is bypassing the local alarm system(s) during the first heist. The method he is using to bypass a Direct Wire alarm monitoring circuit is absolutely correct, as are the readings on the ammeter dials. It is essential that they balance the monitoring circuit to within +/- 3 mA of current in order to keep the Central Station from responding. The fact that the local alarm system has no sounder is also accurate and typical for that time and place.

The method of differentiating between alarm circuits and normal POTS (plain old telephone service) lines in the final score is also dead-on, including the voltages they measure and their significance. The cable construction is slightly wrong, but this does not make any significant difference in the overall method they employ.

******END SPOILERS!*******

Are there flaws? Certainly, but this is still a vast improvement over previous attempts to depict an actual big-time heist.

And as for some of the other reviewers' comments....well, I don't know how you get elevator cars with hydraulic systems into a shaft nowadays, but I know that you used to put them in from the roof through an opening at the top of the elevator shaft. Then you built a little structure or penthouse that could be easily removed if you needed to bring in a lift or crane to do some heavy repair work.

**** out of *****
11 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
one of the most accurate, stylish, masterfully acted crime thrillers you'll ever see
witster187 October 2014
I didn't see this film until 2013. It blew me away. Literally glued to the screen. Purchased immediately. It's a film that I'll always treasure.

Today, films like "Drive" use the same template, and even though some of those films are really good, they're no "Thief". Michael Mann was just starting to develop his style, and it's evident in every frame, every scene.

The acting is top-notch. Caan is fantastic. The action sequences a balance of realism and style.

Mann's use of darkness and blue and red color is awesome. He'd later overdo-it for the nearly as good "Manhunter", but here it's a subtle touch that really adds so much to the film. There's other subtle touches as well, with the editing and sound.

Everything here seems so properly calculated. The style doesn't interrupt the film, it adds standing hairs on your arms with little nuances. The music is great too.

Just see it! Please. They TRULY don't make them like this anymore. You'd be hard pressed to find a film with such a beautifully restrained use of style and realism, bolstered by such powerful human emotions, without seeming pretentious in any way. This is raw grit on film stock.

Somebody cared about this one!


I don't hand out 10's for just anything either. This is the last film I rated a 10, and only the 42nd out of 3,400 I've rated on IMDb.(late edit: since viewing "whiplash" has been viewed and rated 10)
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Michael Mann's cool, crisp film debut
DAVID SIM14 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Thief is a sadly overlooked and underrated feature from the superb Michael Mann. Released in 1981, it quickly came and went at cinemas. A sad fate for such a fantastic crime caper. Even at the beginning of his career, Michael Mann shows his natural talent for matching the right actors to his source material, creating a rich and throbbing atmosphere, and utilising excellent direction to create a very successful package.

Thief is not like many crime capers. Why this one has such resonance is because it's inhabited by people you really feel you'd meet in real life. And James Caan is the emotional centre. Caan has never been better, and this must rank as the best performance of his career (Misery is second).

Thief introduces Caan's character, Frank, in a truly superb opening scene. A robbery, rich in intensity and atmosphere. Frank is an expert safecracker pulling off a diamond heist. Its a great opener. We watch Frank crack open a safe, and what surprises is how realistic it looks. It all appears as a carefully planned operation. It takes us through the paces of an actual robbery. We see Frank use an acetylene torch and acts like he actually knows how to use one. Its helped no end by the throbbing musical score by Tangerine Dream.

What separates Michael Mann's crime thrillers from your standard run of the mill cops and robbers show is he knows how to sketch plausible characters. And Frank is one of Mann's most well defined and truest.

Frank may be a thief, but he is a real person. And one of the most touching aspects of his character is his desire to live a normal life. He's a good thief, and fronts his criminal dealings with legit businesses like a car dealership and a bar. But burning within him is an urge to kiss off this life and start a new one.

We learn about this desire in one of Thief's most memorable moments. A ten minute scene where he opens up to Jessie (Tuesday Weld), a waitress, in a diner. Mann crafts some thoughtful and haunting dialogue in this film, and especially in this scene it really resonates. Mann is known for his talky thrillers, and in this one scene Mann allows the camera to just stay fixed on these people, and let them share confidences.

Frank may hide behind a cynical front. Its whats allowed him to survive in this game. But his cynicism hides a more vulnerable side. Frank has spent time in prison, and while he was there, he befriended Okla (Willie Nelson), a fellow thief. Okla took Frank under his wing and the two men became lifelong friends. They both made a vow that once they got out, they would turn their lives around. Frank shows Jessie a collage of a home, a family and a job. Incongruous images that Frank somehow believes he can make a reality. He shares all of this with Jessie, hoping that she will be a part of that dream.

Although Frank wants to quit his life of crime, he understands he may have to dabble in it to leave it behind. He believes he's found his chance when Leo (expertly played by Robert Prosky), a Mafia kingpin hires his services for a diamond heist. Leo seems a genial, friendly, even paternal boss. And as an added bonus, he helps Frank to achieve his ambitions. He provides him with a nice house, an adopted child since Jessie can't conceive, and Frank's status as an ex-con prohibits him from acquiring one legally, as well as a job. What more could he ask?

But there are complications. The police are monitoring Frank's movements. His phone is bugged. Its as if the whole world suddenly knows who he is. But he persists with the job. And it comes off without a hitch. Then payday comes. And the beginning of Frank's new life. Only it doesn't happen.

Leo makes it clear he has no intention of letting Frank go. He's a valuable commodity. He's a part of the family business now. And family members don't walk out. Leo's made sure of that. He provided Frank with his wonderful new life. He can take it away just as easily. And if it means Jessie and their son have to die in the process, so be it.

Robert Prosky is a total revelation in this scene. Every film I've seen him in he's played kind, warm grandfatherly types. And for the first half of Thief, that's the way he seems. But when Frank wants to leave, Prosky carefully modulates his performance. Mann shoots the scene from Frank's POV, with Leo towering over him, in an upside-down angle. The warm smile is gone. Replaced by a cold, steely-eyed implacability. Its at this point you realise what a monster Leo really is.

The ending is quite a powderkeg of conflicting emotions and lost hopes and dreams. Frank has to effectively cut himself off from all ties to life. He sends Jessie and their son packing under the false pretence of not wanting them around anymore. Truthfully Frank has to get them as far away from him (and Leo) as possible.

Frank burns his bridges in the end, and it all culminates in a grand final showdown between he and Leo. A last desperate bid to gain his freedom. Its quite a sad ending really. Especially because we wanted everything to work out for Frank. But Mann pulls no punches. That's what keeps him ahead of the game compared to most filmmakers.

Thief is a truly excellent film. Compelling, saddening and very exciting. James Caan has every right to be proud of this film. It's a minor masterpiece, and just the beginning of Michael Mann's auspicious and excellent output.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Brilliant Start...
Tony Camel5 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
For Thief, Michael Mann loosely based his screenplay on the book "The Home Invaders" by Frank Hohimer. He consulted with many professional thieves and came up with a story that rivals Rififi as a quintessential heist film. This was Mann's first feature film, and it is a dark and gritty contemporary noir, full of the staples of the genre: irrefutable past, untenable situations, irreversible fate. There are a few other firsts tied to this film. The score, by electronica mavens Tangerine Dream, set a standard for film scores to follow, with their sleek, throbbing beats and incessant thematic melodies running just below the surface of each scene. Also, this was Dennis Farina's (Snatch, Get Shorty) film debut; he was still a Chicago police detective at the time. This was also the film which debuted the talents of both Jim Belushi and Robert Prosky (The Natural). If you look quick, you'll see another Mann favorite, William Petersen (C.S.I., Manhunter) in a scene as the Katz & Jammer bartender.

As the expert professional safecracker specializing in high-profile diamond jobs, James Caan is tough and straightforward, and an example of perfect casting. You sense before knowing that Frank spent many years in prison. When he lays out his very concrete picture of what he wants out of life - the nice home, a wife, and kids - for Jessie, we believe him. This is key for many of Mann's films; believability of character. Caan isn't just some hood; he's a human being with wants and desires as real as yours or mine..

His crew is his family, and that includes Okla (Willie Nelson - Wag The Dog), Barry (Jim Belushi - Made Men, TV's According To Jim), and Nick (Nick Nickeas). They work together like clockwork, as witnessed in the heist scenes. They share secrets none of the friends or families know, an act which serves to bring them towards a closeness few couples ever share. Frank has invested fairly well, putting his money into several businesses, including a used car lot and a nightclub (Chicago's famous The Green Mill).

As Jessie, Tuesday Weld's character seems carved from her role in Who'll Stop The Rain, or perhaps is an extension of that role. She was involved with a man who bought drugs from the Colombians, and when a deal went bad and he was killed she found herself on the streets of Bogota. Now, living a quiet, unassuming life of drudgery in Chicago, she has convinced herself she is happy. When Frank comes along she resists involvement, until he spells out his plan for a new life with family and freedom. Unfortunately, she does not know what she is getting herself into, even though Caan is being as honest with her has he can.

If Michael Mann's storytelling approach seems a bit cool, it is an approach intended to be as distinctive and effective as any Forties or Fifties noir, and Caan's performance ranks among his very best, making Thief a crime movie worth viewing.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Where the real thieves are the ones who'll steal your identity and independence…
Roger Burke30 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors and James Caan has always impressed me with his acting. So, going in to see this one, way back in 1981, I was ready for a good time. I wasn't disappointed and today, I still feel the same way: this is definitely one of the best stories about gangsters I've seen. Only Goodfellas (1990) comes to mind for comparison, but only from the perspective of authenticity of content.

Although this is a story with gangsters and cops – all bad – it's not a story about them per se. And, although this is a story with two safe-cracking heists, it's not a story about how or why they rob and steal, or even how clever they are to do what they do. And they are clever, as you will see...

No - this really is a story about loyalty, trust and rugged individualism – themes that have been entrenched within the American psyche since the Revolution.

Michael Mann is very clever: he's taken a prosaic look at how an ex-con has made his American dream while keeping his finger in the illicit honey pot, doing more than very well to get by, totally independent as befitting a tough go-getter, and unwilling to bend to anybody else's whims or fancies. As Frank, James Caan is the epitome of the good-bad tough guy who robs the rich to keep himself – and his small band of thieves – from going poor in a society that values independence above all.

Transposed to another time and Frank was Butch Cassidy robbing trains and banks to keep his Hole-in-the-Wall gang gung-ho while making bank managers and train barons cry.

Enter the Mob: they want Frank to work for Them. He agrees, finally, but stipulates conditions. The job is done and done well; it's a big score and Frank surpasses expectations. His reward: equity in the Firm – which Frank despises - and a pittance in real cash. Result: Frank goes on a rampage to end Their lives and, in doing so, end his own again, something that he'd already done many times in his head already.

You see - it's Frank's psychology that They don't get because he's like an ancient Japanese ronin – ready to die at a moment's notice, without any thought, in order to keep his sacred independence. So, what They get instead is a steady diet of lead as Frank literally wipes the floor with them, or at least one of them, leaving Frank to wander away from his carnage and just maybe a new beginning.

Throughout all of this grand almost-tragedy, the score by Tangerine Dream suffuses the body and the mind, pulsating, rhythmic, demanding, unrelenting – an auditory extravaganza that matches the action perfectly. Add the Mann touch to cinematography and the Chicago mise-en-scene and you have a film that is a joy to watch.

Mention must be made of the supporting cast: Tuesday Weld is a knockout; newcomers Robert Prosky is suitably avuncular yet menacing and James Belushi is the sharp electronics whiz for Frank's work. Other newcomers were Dennis Farina and William Petersen (in a small role as a bar bouncer). And the technical consultants were real ex-cops and real ex-thieves. What more could you want for a movie – real bullets?

Parents might not like some of the gruesome action and tough language. Otherwise it's an exceptional adult crime drama, the like of which doesn't come along very often, especially in today's cinema.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Immersive thriller from Michael Mann
tomgillespie200219 February 2015
The 1980's seemed to define what is to be expected of a crime movie. It was an era of machine guns, tooth-picks and body oil, with little attention paid to the all-important details. Michael Mann's Thief was an ultra-slick, ice cool and, most astonishingly, highly realistic alternative, which is very impressive given that this was Mann's feature debut. The film revolves around James Caan's safe- cracker Frank, a career criminal looking for one big score before retiring. We meet him mid-job, using a specially-designed drill to steal the diamonds locked within. We are given little background to his character, but, like the rest of the film, the history is embedded within every frame.

Mann, wanting the film to be as close to real-life as possible, employs real cops and criminals as actors, reversing their roles to further blur the line between the 'good' and 'bad' guys. John Santucci, a recently paroled jewel thief, plays a corrupt cop, and Dennis Farina, in his first movie role, was a real-life ex-cop and here plays a criminal henchman. The idea that the cops and robbers are merely two sides of the same coin was explored further in Mann's 1995 masterpiece Heat. With Thief, it feels like we are thrust into this very real but secret world of crime, where Frank, who works alone when possible or employs his entrusted friend Barry (James Belushi) when necessary, agrees to work for shady crime boss Leo (Robert Prosky, who, along with Belushi and Farina, makes his film debut).

With so much time spent with Frank (he appears in every scene), a lot rests upon Caan's shoulders, and he thankfully delivers what is undoubtedly his greatest performance. He's the typical tough-guy loner, but he brings so much to his character that we see much more in him than a mere brute. In the diner scene, where he seduces cashier Jessie (Tuesday Weld) and lays out his plans to start a family, Caan's marvellous monologue further layers his character. But Thief is also an exciting thriller. Thanks to the plausibility of it's characters, it's easy to become concerned when a spanner is inevitably thrown into Frank's plans. If there's a criticism to be had, then it's in the formulaic plot. But when a film seems to know it's characters so well and is filmed so stylishly by cinematographer Donald E. Thorin, it's hard to avoid becoming completely immersed.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Great Feature Debut From Mann
TheFilmGuy13 January 2015
Michael Mann's debut feature film. Wow. This film certainly establishes the great style that Mann's films have. It's also a film that Nicolas Winding Refn must have watched before making Drive, because there's a lot of similarities between the two. Both are the tales of men who are involved in heists and criminal activity and fall in love with a woman, until their criminal ties lead to bad things. The only difference being that this film has a LOT more dialogue than Drive. Drive attempts to silently convey the emotions found in Thief.

James Caan gives a really great performance in this. He stands out especially in a scene in a diner where he explains his thinking in regards to life, and it's really great. All the other people play their roles perfectly, and it was really cool to see the first role that William Petersen got, even if it's like 5 seconds of screen time.

The visual style of this film is what stands out. I watched the Criterion Bluray and it looks amazing. The cinematography is great, especially during night time scenes in the streets, and other colorful scenes like the beach scene. It looks great, and the bluray is stunning.

The film kept me on edge, especially towards the end. The tension is there, and it's quite thrilling. I'd really recommend it to fans of crime drama, and also people who loved Drive. It's really good, and it's cool to see where Michael Mann started off.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A master filmmaker begins his career in style.
Scott LeBrun30 September 2014
The 38-year-old Michael Mann, whose background included commercials, documentaries, and TV dramas, made his feature film directorial debut with a flourish. Here he established himself as a cutting-edge kind of guy, mixing visuals and sound along with top notch performances, memorable characters and efficient storytelling. Mann loosely based his screen story and screenplay on the book "The Home Invaders" by Frank Hohimer, a real-life cat burglar who was still doing time when this was made. Mann invests his tale with a lot of authenticity, casting several real-life thieves in small roles (including technical adviser John Santucci, who also plays the part of crooked detective Urizzi). The result is a technically slick and compelling drama.

James Caan is superb in the lead role of Frank, a seasoned professional thief who specializes in jewelry and cash. He prefers to work for himself, and is hoping to soon leave this line of work behind and settle down with Jessie (Tuesday Weld), the woman he loves. But circumstances bring him to the attention of big shot criminal Leo (the late character actor Robert Prosky, making an excellent film debut). Leo entices Frank to do some jobs for him, offering several incentives, but ultimately he will also want to "own" the independent-minded Frank.

Caan, the beautiful and appealing Weld, and Prosky all have wonderful showcase sequences. Caan shines when Frank reveals to Jessie the prison experiences that helped to shape the man he became. And Prosky is positively chilling when Leo warns Frank of the consequences of going against him. James Belushi has his first major part as Franks' young partner Barry, and holds his own quite well. Willie Nelson is so good in his brief screen time as long time convict Okla one may wish that he had more to do. There are some familiar faces among the supporting cast: Tom Signorelli, Del Close, Bruce A. Young, John Kapelos, Mike Genovese, Nathan Davis, and Michael Paul Chan; future 'C.S.I.' star William Petersen and former Chicago cop Dennis Farina also made their feature film debuts here.

Especially noteworthy are the cinematography by Donald Thorin and the typically atmospheric music by Tangerine Dream. The conclusion is rather conventional, but Mann still commands a viewers' attention the entire time and elicits the appropriate visceral response.

Striking entertainment that marked a sign of things to come for the director.

Nine out of 10.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Highly stylized, rare, out of the box thriller.
Abdul Wasey Tanweer18 August 2014
You don't get to see new noir stories even in the pure days. This was very noir, very thematic; this was the treat.

Thief is not about heart throbbing moments that are the ingredients of films with diamonds, sex and power as their MacGuffins. It's something else. James Caan plays a highly talented thief who wants to leave his talents behind but equally magnetic people like Robert Prosky and Willie Nelson provide lucrative and nostalgic links to the past respectively.

With a very fine and pulsing Tangerine Dream score, Michael Mann gets a justified excuse to continuously set high and low expectations for the viewers. The score did feel a bit asynchronous with the scenes but that was all part of the unexpected style of this film. To hell with AllMusic and to hell with the Raspberry Awards.

And what a glorious poster!
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed