Thief (1981)

Michael Mann directs James Caan, Tuesday Weld and James Belushi in this neo-noir where an independent safe cracker with a penchant for “ice” makes a deal with an organised crime devil.

Fluorescent light ravages the night sky. These are dark times, with no place to hide. A jagged cityscape where the utilitarian and the modern offer no comfort. An artificial world of glass, chrome and brick ready to explode. A Michael Mann world. James Caan’s titular Thief suits it. At one point he stabs spears of incandescent illumination into an “impenetrable” steel safe. He starts out master of his domain, smooth operator, beholden to no man, fingers in legitimate pies. Greed, love, want… three things gets him to break his code, get in with people who want to use him, control him, own him. The shady cops he can handle. The old boss who can give him everything he desires though, that man he underestimates. He wants a kid, a pragmatic normal life with Tuesday Weld (her beautiful black eyes have seen the same harshness and chaos this lifestyle brings), a clean life with no risk, his father figure to die free. The criminals aren’t true to their word. They deliver but the price is they want him forever. You can’t trust criminals. So Caan burns his world down. If he can’t be his own master, be in control, be free then he is going out with a scorched earth bang. Fuck them. This is primal genre work. Ugly and beautiful. Existential and lean. Full of meaningful dialogue and stoic, impactful set pieces. No excess. Just pure. Not basic. Pure.

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