Thursday, 5 February 2015

Thief (1981)

Before he made THE KEEP (1983) and MANHUNTER (1986), Michael Mann made a splash with cinema audiences with this slick, stylishly filmed crime drama that's now available on a sparkling two disc Blu-ray set courtesy of Arrow Films.

James Caan plays Frank, a professional safecracker who yearns to settle down to a normal life with a house, wife and children. In an attempt to finance his dream, he accepts a job from Chicago mafia boss Leo (Robert Prosky), believing the payoff will provide him with sufficient funds to retire from crime for good. Leo's offer turns out to be too good to be true, and the movie ends in a bloodbath.

It would be difficult for anyone who didn't grow up watching movies in the 1980s to appreciate just how influential THIEF was, and it's fascinating to revisit it all these years later and see shots that quickly became cliched (night time Alleys From Hell cluttered with dripping fire escapes, soaking city streets reflecting neon lighting, advertising billboards where the slogans themselves embellish the scene). Movies like Alan Parker's ANGEL HEART and Walter Hill's STREETS OF FIRE all owe THIEF a debt, and Mann's style, when added to the otherworldly Tangerine Dream score that accompanies much of the action, creates a world that feels one step into the future. A 1980s future, admittedly, a not-quite BLADE RUNNER but getting there future, but nevertheless a place that's a shade slicker than the contemporary urban realistic settings of 1970s crime pictures like Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION.

The real star of THIEF of course, is James Caan, and Mann's film would have suffered immensely without his presence. THIEF is all about Frank, who provides not just an emotional core to the proceedings, but allows us, if not to sympathise, then at least to understand his motivations. Mann's script helps as well, of course, and ironically one of the most memorable scenes here is Frank recounting his past to Tuesday Weld in the decidedly unflashy setting of a diner. The rest of the cast are great too, even though Robert Prosky will always be Grandpa Frank from GREMLINS 2 to me.

Arrow's limited edition slipcased Blu-ray gives us two discs and two versions of the film. The first is a Michael Mann-approved director's cut, the second the original theatrical cut of the film. There is a host of extras including a commentary track from Mann and Caan, a profile of the director, a new interview with Caan, a period Caan documentary from French TV, and a piece on the movie by F X Feeney. There's also a reversible sleeve and a booklet with new writing on the film by Brad Stevens. Only the second Blu-ray (theatrical cut and no extras apart from a music and effects only track) was made available for review.

Michael Mann's THIEF was released on limited edition Region B Blu-ray (3000 units, with slipcase) on Monday 2nd February 2015

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