R, 122 min.
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Michael Mann, Frank Hohimer (novel “The Home Invaders”)
Starring: James Caan, Tuesday Weld, James Belushi, Robert Prosky, Tom Signorelli, Willie Nelson
Michael Mann’s debut feature film “Thief” is like a preview of the best of what was to come from this powerful director. On top of that, it’s a great movie in itsel. It follows the story of a small time jewel thief who is offered a chance at the big time. He’s reluctant to take the chance, because it would mean he was no longer in working for just himself. Circumstances arise that convince him to just take a taste and the end results are not what he was promised.
Now, there’s nothing Earth shattering in that plot, but Mann’s films have always been more about attitude and atmosphere than plot. Think “Drive” with a little more dialogue and a main character that actually has dreams and aspirations.
Mann is a master at photographing city streets at night. This has always been one of my best friend’s favorite movies. That friend also has an obsession with songs about the city at night. I never made the connection before, but I’m beginning to see a pattern in my friend’s tastes. Mann photographs the Chicago streets here as if he’s had a long love affair with them. Is it a surprise that my friend ended up in Chicago? The lights, the cars, the way every restaurant is like the property of each of its patrons. I think to Mann this is more beautiful than a mountain top vista.
The electronic score of “Thief” by Tangerine Dream also seems to be something manifestly of the city. Again this brings me back to my friend and songs about the city, the best of which are always electronic. It’s the order and calculation the can virtually be seen in the landscape of the city that allows them to mesh so well together. Electronic music also has the feel of calculation and order that is impossible to ignore. These are also characteristics of the lives Mann’s criminals lead. The best electronic music also contains the immensity of the city; both the scores to “Thief” and “Drive” do this incredibly well.
Watch the movie in its entirety below.