- Not to say he wouldn’t make better films later in his career, but Michael Mann’s feature debut Thief showcases an auteur born with a clear vision. With the meeting of crime and high art aesthetics it is hard not to mention Jean-Pierre Melville as a comparison.
- Mann is smart to set the film in a familiar spot- it is shot on location in Chicago, and Mann is from Chicago.
- Mann’s vision combines a bit of gritty street realism detail with this sleek sheen view of the neon lit streets. Mann had to admire William Friedkin.- apparently Mann wanted either Gene Hackman or Roy Scheider (The French Connection) here for the James Caan role. Mann also uses Tangerine Dream for the score (this is one of their finest) and Tangerine Dream really got their start working on big films with Friedkin in Sorcerer (1977).
- Mann opens with noir-like rain and line of city lights bouncing off the puddles. The robbery is the opening set piece lasting just about 10-minutes. It is about execution, precision, there is not much dialogue at all.
- Not a big focus of Mann but a quick split diopter shot of the Feds
- Robert Prosky is very good as Leo. He has the confidence and assurance not to get blown off the street by Caan. Caan is untamed here- he’s sending back the coffee cream and calling it cottage cheese, he’s screaming, pausing a lot, referencing gangbangs in prison. At the 33-minute to 43-minute mark in the coffee shop he gives a very long monologue to Tuesday Weld’s Jessie character. I have some mixed feelings on his delivery. Mann uses the street lights behind them to give color to the scene- a focus on background, too. Coffee shops are very important to Mann’s films (this could be the one where Pacino and De Niro finally meet in Heat).
- William Petersen is in one scene as a bartender- he would go on to be the star of Mann’s Manhunter (1986). Dennis Farina is here as well (he was an actual Chicago PD)—this was a big break for Prosky, Peterson, Farina, and Belushi.
- In talking to Weld’s Jessie on the phone he talks about “the heat”
- Tangerine Dream’s sublime work fills the air- there are long stretches without dialogue as Caan’s Frank preps, works, or its just the night (with glorious lighting) in his car.
- Peckinpah-like miraculous slow-motion shots of Jim Belushi getting it.
- Frank blows up the house, bar, dealership…. And like all of Mann’s work it leads to the climatic battle (in this case a shootout). This is a brilliant urban western.
- A Must-See film top five of the year quality- along with Blood Simple a few years later from The Coen Brothers this is one of the better debut films of the 1980s.
It should be a Must See film “top” five of the year quality.
@Malith- thank you for the help- fixed
Excited to check this one out, it’s uncanny how much some of the photos on this page look like they could be from Heat (1995) especially that shot of a car parking lot, I actually thought this was the Michael Mann page for a second ha as I thought that photo was from Heat.
@James Trapp- keep me posted when you get to it!
@Drake – Fuck yeah! Mann’s study is on.))
Michael Mann is my favorite director, so I will be eagerly awaiting your updates.)
I like Thief, and I was surprised how confident it is and how many Mann usual themes and aesthetic choices are already here (and weaknesses, I don’t think he has ever written an interesting character for an actress). But for me, it feels a bit like rehearsal before the main event (talking about the Heat of course).
Finally caught this meant to a while ago but sidetracked with many other films.
I like the comparison to Jean Pierre Melville, especially the way he creates these criminal underworlds with larger cities, with Mann its Los Angeles and Melville its usually Paris. I love the use of neon lights, almost feels like the city is a character
At 44 min the preparation and specific details are similar to Heat (1995) I love the attention to details
I think @MadMike criticism of female characters is a fair one, obviously not Mann’s strength, some of the dialogue between Caan character and Tuesday Weld is a little clunky even though that scene gives insight to the Caan character as noted on this page above.
@Drake- i think it’s a triumph for James Caan, I really liked him here. What about you?
What do you think of James Can’t work here?