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Monday, January 27, 2014

THIEF Criterion Blu-Ray Review

Courtesy of The Criterion Collection
1981, 124 minutes
Not Rated 

Review by Joshua Handler

Michael Mann's electrifying, hard-edged crime thriller, Thief, is an underrated near-masterpiece of crime cinema.  Refn's Drive would never exist without Thief.  So much of Drive's style is an homage to Thief, from the near-wordless opening heist sequence to the electronica score.  This is another great Criterion edition.

What I love about The Criterion Collection is that they bring back films that deserve attention.  Last month's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, September's La Cage Aux Folles (still very popular, but overshadowed by The Birdcage), and this month's Thief are all films that are landmark pieces of cinema that have been largely forgotten.  The fact that Michael Mann is incredibly popular and his film's influence is still being felt is incredible and the fact that it isn't better known is a shame.  This edition's colors pop and the score pulsates.  This fits beautifully into the Criterion canon.

Thief was, as Mann and Caan describe in the interviews included in the disc's special features, an authentic crime picture.  Mann used many real thieves as actors and used their real equipment and methods for the break-in sequences, all of which are filmed and edited with precision and excitement.  The authenticity in Thief shows - unlike many crime movies, there are no logic gaps.  Thief, even at 124 minutes is fast-paced and economical, but also has a big heart, which makes it involving on a human level.  The relationship between Frank and Jessie is completely believable and free of sentimentality, and the film's ending is bleak and realistic.

James Caan delivers a tough, intense lead performance as Frank, the thief of the title.  He is a man who has lived a hard life, particularly during his long term in prison, but he is also a man with a heart.  Frank falls for Jessie (Tuesday Weld in a very sympathetic performance), a nice woman who has also lived a rough life.  Caan and Weld's chemistry is very real and strong, making us care for them.

Thief is, at its very base, a typical heist movie.  However, as mentioned, it has a big heart and a lot of brains.  Every frame of this movie oozes style.  The neon lights in the Chicago scenes really capture the city's grit and decay.  This urban landscape is not unlike the hellish one depicted in Blade Runner just a year after Thief was released, though this one is obviously much more realistic.  The cinematography by Donald Thorin is crisp and every shot is well-framed.

There are three interviews included on the disc.  The first interview is with Michael Mann, the second with James Caan, and the third with Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream.  The first two give fascinating insight into the creation of this film.  Mann discusses how, growing up in Chicago, he knew many people like the ones depicted in his film.  Since these people were part of Mann's childhood and he knew their world so intimately well, he included them in his film.  Schmoelling's interview is very different since he became involved after shooting.  He discusses the immense amount of respect he has for Michael Mann since Mann gave Tangerine Dream a lot of creative freedom.  As Schmoelling points out, the first scene (7-10 minutes) has little to no dialogue.  This meant that he and his team had freedom to fill that long scene with music.  Schmoelling appreciated the fact that Mann trusted him and his team enough to allow them that freedom.  The disc also includes a trailer.  While the special features are minimal, they're very interesting and complement the film very nicely.

Overall, this edition of Thief would be worth a blind buy - it's that great.  Thief is both extremely accessible and artistically significant.  It's really thrilling to have this movie back again, looking and sounding stunning.  I hope people realize what a significant work of art this really is and how gutsy it was to make it as bleak as it is.

Film: 4/4
Special Features: 3.5/4
Overall: Worth Buying

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