Thief (1981)

thief poster 1981 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good looking thriller, James Caan


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Thief

Studio:  Mann/Caan Productions

Genre(s):  Drama/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  March 27, 1981

MPAA Rating:  R

thief tuesday weld james caan

So…want to try a relationship with a safe thief? What could go wrong?

Frank (James Caan) is a profession thief with the cover of a used car salesman.  When he is contacted by Leo (Robert Prosky) with an opportunity for an “out” by increasing his take, he realizes he could finally have the life he’s dreamed of.  The job is big and risks are high as danger of police or capture are increasing as Frank finds his life coming together with Jessie (Tuesday Weld).  Could Frank be facing his biggest payout or his biggest failure?

Written and directed by Michael Mann, Thief is a crime suspense thriller.  Mann’s first feature film, the film is based on the Frank Hohimer 1975 book The Home Invaders.  The film was released to positive reviews and was a nominee for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival.  The film received a Razzie nomination for Worst Musical Score.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #691).

thief tuesday weld james caaan willie nelson

Ah, Willie…we barely knew you

Michael Mann is always good for a solid thriller.  Thief was on my radar for years, and I never got around to it.  Finally seeing Thief, it felt very familiar in story and characters, but it was great ride.

The movie is largely a study of the Frank character.  Frank has trauma in the past, he grew up in the foster system, survived a dangerous prison stint (where he proves he doesn’t take anything), and plays by his own rules as a thief.  You know watching the movie that Frank is going to run into trouble (he does), but there is a lot of indicators that Frank isn’t going to go down without a fight (he doesn’t).  It is a good character, and the character really drives the movie.

This is James Caan at some of his best (he listed it as his second favorite film after The Godfather).  He is direct, and he’s cool and collected…and can go from zero to scary.  Tuesday Weld got some criticism for her accent, but her character compliments Caan’s character.  Robert Prosky is a fun villain as the mafia leader Leo (in his first film), but Willie Nelson as Frank’s mentor David “Okla” Bertinneau is underused.  Jim Belushi also feels like he could have been more of a character.  There are also small roles by William Petersen and Dennis Farina.

thief ending shoot out james caan

Taking no prisoners

The movie has a noir style look.  It still has that 1970s grittiness to it, but you can also see the ’80s style creeping in.  The movie features a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream which is arguably distracting, but it also brings it into the 1980s away from the ’70s feel.

Thief is a good thriller.  It is kind of predictable in that you can see what is obviously going to happen in Frank’s situation, but it the anticipation of plot that you can see that does build tension.  Mann proves on his first outing that he can craft a great film.  Mann followed Thief with The Keep in 1983.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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