Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Thief (1981)

Caan is a jewel thief in Mann's classic.

Directed by Michael Mann
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Ronnie Caan
Written by Michael Mann (adaptation); Frank Hohimer (book)
Starring James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky, Willie Nelson, and James Belushi


If you've seen Drive, this film will feel somewhat familiar to you. James Caan stars as Frank, a jewel thief who plays by his own rules and keeps things strictly business. Having served a ten-year prison sentence, he wants to put his life together. Frank sees a wife and kids in his future, and he wants to get out of the business after one last score. But this score comes from a mafia boss (Prosky) that Frank agrees to work for, supposedly for as many jobs as he wants. In this case, one is enough. As they plan his first (and last) job, the boss takes great care of Frank, even helping him and his new wife (Weld) adopt a child. The time comes, and the job is completed smoothly. When Frank comes to collect his money, the boss gives him part of it and insists on a partnership. Frank does things his own way, and he just wants the money and to get out. If he wants to end this, he'll have to take on the boss and his henchmen to get his money and his life back.

Given the fact that they're both adapted from separate novels by different authors, it's amazing how much Drive borrows from this cult classic. They both feature a cunning, businesslike criminal going against the mafia. Of course, this similarity does not detract from the greatness of either film. Frank is a stubborn hothead with sense, but his ideal future drives his thinking. He wants to live his way, so he doesn't take anything from anybody. Needless to say, Caan is perfect for the part, as he famously proved as the hotheaded Sonny in The Godfather. He's tough, and he can snap when backed into a corner, like Ryan Gosling's "Driver". The film all comes together under director and screenwriter Michael Mann, who is in his element here, with the material rising to the level of a great crime film. Meanwhile, Tangerine Dream's electronic score is a fine addition, providing the film with an amped up slickness. Everything's under control as Caan fights for his own, and it's a thrill watching him do so. This underseen classic is pulp entertainment at its best, and seeking it out would be a wise decision.

Oscar Tally: None


  1. 4 out of 4! I may just do that and seek it out, I saw this was on youtube, so I may give it a watch soon.
    I only saw Drive once, and was a year ago, so the similaries shouldn't be a major issue for me.

    1. I loved the film. The similarities didn't really bother me, but they were noticeable. Though, Drive is more stylish.

  2. This film sounds amazing. I am adding it to my list immediately.

  3. Oooh I like Michael Mann's movies generally (apart from Public Enemies) but I haven't seen this one. I should give this a watch soon. More interested in seeing this than Drive to be honest.

    1. Really? I like Drive better, but they're both great. And I'm one of the handful of people who actually like Public Enemies. ;)