Thief (Mann, 1981)

An strange and intriguing debut by one of America’s finest working filmmakers, but upon closer observation Thief isn’t much to fuss about. Yes, it displays Mann’s beautiful visual sensibility, but the lone hero (James Caan’s title burglar) exists in a tepid professional world where the cops, the robbers, and the innocents merge together without much impact. What makes Mann’s later crime films so masterful, the focus of group juxtaposition and dynamic music cues, never comes into play with Thief. Instead, we get a crisp look at an individual working through predictable and sometimes inconsequential genre conventions, with some of the Mann touches slightly elevating the otherwise generic plot-line. One thing’s for sure – Thief gave someone the confidence to let Mann develop as a filmmaker, even though the next project The Keep marked a new low. Manhunter, a few years later, signifies the real birth of the Michael Mann working today.

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