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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Thief (1981)


That “one last job”, never quite is.

Frank (James Caan) is your typical crook in the early 80’s, who’s just trying to make right with his life. He owns a used-car shop, has a girl (Tuesday Weld) that he’s trying to settle down with, and on the side, does a little bit of jewel-thievery. However, he’s an honest guy and doesn’t hurt anybody, so there can’t be much of a problem with taking another job from a head honcho in the Chicago mob (Robert Prosky), right? Well, Frank doesn’t believe so but he’s about to find out that you don’t just take the mob’s money and expect to go on about your day and act as if it never happened. You have commitments and you’re practically “part of the gang”, something that Frank does not run too well with.

Michael Mann hasn’t made a flick quite in some time and it makes you wonder one thing, why? I mean, granted, Public Enemies was no work of art to end-off with and Miami Vice was even worse, but everything else before is what most of us call close to being “a masterpiece” or at least something along those lines. I’ve seen most of Mann’s flicks and each and every one has done something for me in a positive way, even if they don’t always work when you take into consideration the decades that they were made in, but still, the guy had a style, the guy had a feel, the guy had a look, and the guy sure as hell knew how to tell a story, especially if that story consisted of dudes pulling off crimes, shooting one another, and cursing a shit-ton.

That Michael Mann, man.

"Oh no! I ain't getting shot in a hail of gun-fire this time!"

“Oh no! I ain’t getting shot in a hail of gun-fire this time!”

To be honest though, as much as I’ve heard overly positive things about this flick, I’ve never really brought myself to even bother with it. It wasn’t because I wasn’t interested, it’s just because 80’s movies don’t usually work for me like they do with some peeps. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Miami Vice (the TV show), I’m not a huge fan of New Wave, and I’m sorry, but the synths have to go! Probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to liking the 80’s, was GTA: Miami Vice which will always go down as one of the crowning moments in my life where not only did I realize I was a geek, but a geek that knew who A Flock of Seagulls were. Aw yeah. Times were good for 11-year-old Dan the Pre-Man, and then I grew up and realized that the 80’s blew. Then again, the 21st Century that I’m growing up in ain’t much better, so what the hell do I know, right?

Anyway, personal problems aside, I decided to see what Mann was up to with one of his first theatrical-releases and needless to say, it lived up to all of the expectations I’ve gathered from all of the other reviews of this movie I’ve been seeing, and then some. I won’t go so far as to call this “a masterpiece” like some peeps have, but I will go so far as to say that if you love crime movies, this is the movie you need to see right away, especially if you like your crime movies with an extra-dosage of style, color, and Tangerine Dream. Don’t worry, they’re on my shit-list, too.

And yes, you could say that some parts of Mann’s flick is dated, considering that the 80’s were lame, despite them thinking they were cool-as-hell. The score does become a bit over-bearing at times; people say certain pieces of lingo that feels put-on, rather than actually genuine; and the violence could have been a little less used with the slo-mo, but overall, this flick still kicks ass after all of these years. That’s mostly because Mann knows the type of story he wants to make, which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from most crime films located in the same vein. Rather than going for convention and making this a story about one dude pulling-off his last job and the problems with the mobsters he has to deal with, it’s actually more about the problem he has with facing himself and what he has to do for a living. Frank is the type of character that knows he can do so much better with his life, whether it be by settling down, raising a family, and being a loyal husband, but knows that the only way for him to be successful and prosperous in America is to make money at what you do best, even if that does mean robbing and stealing jewelry from high-class vaults. Hey, do what you’re good at, and leave it at that!

It’s more of an inner-battle that Frank with his own set of skills and the human being he can be, rather than the outer-battle with these bastards from the mob. That later-conflict does come into the flick, but comes in later once all of Frank’s stones have been set and we’ve gotten a clearer picture of who this guy is and how he functions as a human specimen. Mann goes for the humane-aspect of this character, but the approach wouldn’t have worked as perfectly had it not been for Caan in the lead role, pulling off one of his best of all-time.

Yep, that’s saying something for the same dude who played Sonny and even Walter Hobbs, if you really want to get all “commercial” with it.

Caan’s always been that actor who’s been putting out great pieces of work across-the-board for decades now, but never really gets the time to shine like he used to. You could say that has something to do with age or the fact that he’s apparently been considered “difficult” to work with, but I just say it’s a damn shame because the man shows us that he can work with any role, whether it be an generally nice guy, or a sympathetic crook who knows what he is and is trying to make something good come out of it. Caan plays Frank perfectly because you always know that there’s more to this guy and that you can always count on him to do the right thing, even if it is just for himself and not for the others around him. Hey, I didn’t say the guy was perfect, just human; that’s all.

But I think people out there reading this will think it’s nothing more than a character-study, with some guns and bullets thrown into the mix. And if you do think that, then you’re not entirely wrong; just know that the flick is pretty damn tense and gets very bloody, very quick, especially once everything starts to hit the fan, big time. Mann is the type of director that can make any plot begin to sizzle and boil just by giving us enough time to let all of the details and feelings settle in, and once that happens here, it’s balls to the walls with him, these characters, this story, and Mann’s sense of style. It’s an 80’s-style, but Mann was the king at it, so watching the king do his work ain’t half-bad if you don’t mind me saying so.

He's straining so hard to actually act. Should have just done speedball'd it up.

He’s straining so hard to actually act. Should have just done speedball’d it up.

The rest of the cast all let Cann do his show and pull it off with flying colors, but they all get to show their skills as well and not get thrown in the background for too long. Tuesday Weld is great as Jessie, Frank’s gal, because she gives us an understandable reason as to why she would want to be with and stay with someone like Frank, and even makes us believe that she could stand up for herself if push came to shove as well. The final scene between her and Frank is a very emotional one, one that took me by surprise because it’s so unexpected, yet, so heartfelt in the sense that it connects two people that we know love each other and are together throughout the whole film, and still shows their dedication and love to one another. Hell, I’m tearing up now just typing it.

The late, great Robert Prosky is very good as Leo, the main mobster that gets Frank’s the jobs and everything and seems like he’s a bit too nice and modest to be such a powerful-figure in the crime world, but once you see his true colors, you begin to realize that the guy is a mean, sick son-of-a-bitch who’s toes you should not step on. Also, he’s a Philly boy and I always have to give out love for that! You’ll also have to be on the look-out from smaller, younger roles from the likes of Denis Farina, Jim Belushi, and William Petersen, who all do fine, but also let Caan do his show, as promised and deserved.

Consensus: Some of it may be dated, but overall, Thief still works as not just an exciting crime-thriller, but an interesting character-study of a person we don’t know if we should root for, all because of how greatly Caan portrays him.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"You got the weed, or what?"

“You got the weed, or what?”

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7 responses to “Thief (1981)

  1. The Vern January 14, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    Thief reminded me alot of Drive in it’s terms of look and style. Synth pop all the way for me man I love it. I want there to be more synth pop in movies LOL. I enjoyed Theif a lot and really though Caan did a good job in this. But I found myself not overly engaged too much. The ending was cool

    • Courtney Small January 14, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      Drive definitely owes a lot to this film. While I found both films to be enjoyable in their own ways, I think Mann’s characters in Thief are more well-rounded compared to the ones in Refn’s Drive.

  2. Wendell January 14, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Ouch! Lay off the 80s, Dan! I saw Thief back when I was about 12 or 13…in the early 80s, lol. I don’t remember much about it. It’s time for a re-watch. On another note, I liked Public Enemies and really liked Miami Vice. I think that one is very underrated. But that’s just me. Great review, Dan.

  3. Victor De Leon January 16, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Overdue for a re-watch with this one. I really liked it. I think I saw this last on VHS lol. Kudos on the review!

  4. Three Rows Back January 18, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Good for you Dan. Love this movie!

  5. Melissa Silvestri January 28, 2015 at 3:51 am

    This was an excellent film. I like heist movies, so this was right up my alley. The diner scene between Caan and Weld was touching and heartfelt, and it felt real to me, not like “acting.” This was an interesting little gem, thank you for reviewing it.

  6. Pingback: Michael Mannuary in Review | French Toast Sunday

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