Thief (1981)

Action, Crime, Drama
James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, James Belushi
Becoming closer to his dream of leading a normal life, a professional safecracker agrees to do a job for the mafia, who have other plans for him.
  • MGM Home Entertainment Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 27 Mar 1981 Released:
  • 15 May 2001 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Frank Hohimer (novel), Michael Mann (screen story) Writer:
  • Michael Mann Director:
  • N/A Website:

Trailer:

a real classic!5/10

Even though this film was made only a little over two decades ago, I consider it a film-noir classic! James Caan said once that this was the film he was in that he was proudest of next to The Godfather. I remember that Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel said this was one of the finest films of 1981. Caan is wonderful in a role that he was born to play, a tough guy with his heart on his sleeve. Everything about this film is wonderful from the musical score by Tangerine Dream to the dark lighting effects to the authentic detail about the life of a thief ( I read that Michael Mann actually used real life thieves as technical advisors to this film!). Even though Caan's character is an anti-hero, you have to feel sorry for him because he is caught in a situation where there is no way out! The best scene in the film is where he tells Tuesday Weld about his prison experiences and shows here the picture cut out that he has made of his American dream. Jimmy Caan is truly awesome, he is the only actor that ever made me cry (in Brian's Song) I also wanted to mention another great character actor who is in the film. His name is Robert Prosky and he plays the mob boss who uses Caan. This was his film debut after many years as a stage actor and he is terrific. Watch the scene in the acid plant where he threatens Caan. He is really chilling! Michael Mann created Crime Story and Miami Vice and he also directed Manhunter, but lets not forget this film as well.
Michael Mann's best movie, with James Caan' best performance. 'Thief' is a hardboiled crime classic not to be missed!5/10

'Thief' is one of the most underrated movies of the 1980s, if not of all time. Made in the early 80s by TV veteran Michael Mann, and co-produced by the future "king" of action blockbusters Jerry Bruckheimer, this movie can almost be seen as the transition from 1970s character based crime DRAMA to 1980s flashy but brainless 1980s crime ACTION. In that sense 'Thief' is the last great 1970s movie of the 1980s. Mann made at least two great movies after this ('Manhunter' and 'Heat'), but I still think it is is his best and most satisfying work. James Caan believes that the movie contains his finest performance and I'm inclined to agree with him. Caan is dynamite throughout. He oozes charisma and is impossible to take your eyes off, but also gives a subtle and complex performance. The film works both as an exciting caper movie, and as a human drama. In many ways it is the best crime film to pull that off since Dassin's 'Rififi' in the mid 1950s. Cann is helped by a superb supporting cast, who on the surface may seem a motley bunch, but all are very good - Tuesday Weld ('Who'll Stop The Rain'), Jim Belushi (his movie debut), a memorable cameo from country legend Willie Nelson, and especially a fantastic turn from Robert Prosky. Prosky is probably best known to most viewers as the kindly father-figure he played in 'Hill Street Blues'. His turn here as a ruthless gangster is a complete eye opener! Prosky delivers one of the most vicious lines ever heard in a movie, which is a bit too extreme for me to quote here, but believe me, you will never forget it when you hear it! Many people seem to find Tangerine Dream's dated synth score to be extremely irritating but I actually enjoyed it and thought it helped build the mood. 'Thief' is a hardboiled crime classic and is highly recommended to any fan of the genre, especially those made in the 1970s. It is wildly underrated and deserves to be rediscovered by a larger audience. 'Thief' is simply one of THE great "lost" classics of the last thirty years.
Michael Mann's Masterpiece5/10

Thief(1981) contains the best performance of James Caan as a professional thief in a rare leading role. He is complex and three deminsional as the protagonist, Frank. Thief(1981) is similar in many ideas to the Dustin Hoffman film, Straight Time(1977). One of the best directorial debut as Michael Mann gives a realistic portrayal of the hardships in being a professional thief. The movie does a good job in showing the corruption that Frank has to go against.


Its much better than Heat(1995) because it focuses on one person instead of trying to interweave in confusing detail the lives of two people who are opposite in job but the same in spirit. Willie Nelson is terrific in the small of of Frank's mentor, Okla. Robert Prosky is impressive as the father like crime boss, Leo. The heist scenes are the highlight of the film. Thief(1981) has to be one of the best movies to come out during the 1980s and is definitely the director's top film.
One of My All Time Faves - But the original is gone I suspect5/10
Saw this in the theater at it's release. Went back the next weekend and scenes were cut. They remain cut in every version I've seen since. Frank snaps chalk lines off traces of blueprints onto the safe face in the opening heist. Guess the crime commission didn't dig that, 'cause that 5 seconds is history in every cut I've seen since. How do the boys and their gear get up on the roof of the bank building? Rocket assisted grappling hook mortars firing mountain lines and Jumar ascenders from the parking lot. You won't see that scene anymore, either. Man, I miss the Corned Beefs at the Belden Deli on Clark where Frank hands the stones to Gags. Long gone. But if you are in Chicago, stop in early at the Green Mill and you might be able to have a drink in that big, round wood booth - still there. Great gun & car flick. Frank's .45 looks like a Bomar Svenson custom combat, tremendous. Watch for the High Standard 12 guage stakeout special at the end - very rare. Take a drive up north on Western Avenue to check out all the used car lots - still there. Great locations. Yup, the creme was ALWAYS cottage cheese at the old Oasis restuarants. Yuch! You know - Tuesday Weld actually even ACTS a little in this movie, amazing. Man that was a gorgeous house in my old neighborhood and yes they blew it up. Notice when they are snuggling on the outdoor patio - it had a two-sided fireplace - indoor and outdoor. Probably the best Chicago movie ever. The phone book and trash can - time honored tools of the early 80's. When I saw it opening night the theater was filled with every crook and detective on the north side with their wives. And everybody just nodded to each other on the way out. Those days are gone but not forgotten. Great, great flick. Cool TD soundtrack album, too. Also probably the best metallurgical movie ever. I want Frank's coat.
A bit dated but still one of the finest action films ever made8/10
"Thief" may fool some viewers into overlooking just how intelligently made it is, mainly because of how dated it initially appears. Its full of quick cuts, a pounding Tangerine Dream score, and flashy cars and clothing. Knowing that Michael Mann later made "Miami Vice", one may fear this will resemble a feature-length episode of that show. Fortunately, one realizes quickly that this is a really quality product. Its dated elements can't really be held against the filmmakers, and considering that "Scarface" was still two years away, this style could be considered a bit ahead of its time. The screenplay is just so powerful and well developed that it overcomes its limitations quickly. Mann is well known for making smart, character-driven action films, and "Thief" is no exception. This ranks with "Manhunter" as his finest achievement in my mind.

As good as the direction and script are, what really makes the film is James Caan. Caan has always been a criminally underrated performer, and as a strangely moral thief who wants to leave the business, he's never been better. He infuses a good deal of nuance and subtlety into the performance that only reveals itself with repeated viewings. Its proof that the man is as good as either DeNiro or Pacino. Tuesday Weld is also fantastic, offering possibly her finest performance (and she still looks terrific fifteen years after her peak of stardom). Even Willie Nelson and James Belushi give good portrayals. "Thief" is a really fantastic hardboiled crime thriller that appears a bit dated but ends up being as potent as ever. (8/10)