There are people who, from the moment they take their first steps, can already appreciate that they have it. The future will only be a slight variation around four constants that will explode like nobody else and will become a style book. Michael Mann is an example of how crystallize very soon what kind of author you are and what kind of movie are you going to make.
On previous occasions when commenting on his films, we have already talked about the great obsession of the American director: the consummate professionals. Exceptional people at what they do, being the profession interchangeable. Also people dedicated to such an extent that their emotional stability can falter and their great conflict is to opt for one side. All of that was already in’Thief‘, one of his first masterpieces that can be seen on Filmin.
In his first theatrically released feature film (he had previously directed the television show ‘Free Man’) we see an imperial James Caan playing a freelance jewel thief. He’s the best at what he does, mainly because he doesn’t get complicated. His methods are calculated and precise.as we see in a masterful initial sequence where the procedure is shown with full clarity and to the rhythm of the eighties synthesizers of Tangerine Dream.
His blows are not extraordinary, so he avoids the chase. A powerful gangster tries to recruit him for bigger heists, promising him technical and financial security. Of course, it won’t take long to twist showing a properly hidden face. At the same time, he meets a perfect girl with whom he perfectly sees a future, a family.
It’s not hard to guess the clash between the two styles, because Mann duly does his job to contrast them as opposite extremes. We are not only before an impeccably shot thriller in terms of heists and action, but the filmmaker does an extraordinary dramatic job with his development of the story, of these characters and their connection. A scene in the cafeteria creates a beautiful but dark moment of honesty that feels like a foretaste of the masterful scene in a similar location in ‘Heat’.
‘Thief’: extreme professionalism
Caan assured at the time that this is his favorite of all the films he has shot (even more than ‘The Godfather’). You can see how a character he plays with incredible presence fits like a glove without obscuring it. a complex and vibrant emotional side. Representative of a layered film, one that can be enjoyed as a straight thriller but offers a lot if you decide to scratch the surface.
His way of reformulating the neo-noir genre is solidifying a proposal that would continue to shine to a greater or lesser extent in Mann’s later career. For this reason ‘Thief’ is one of his essential jewels, capable of forcefully overwhelming you through elegant but also gross action, of creating a particular world that only seems to exist in his films and series and also dazzling you with music.