Michael Mann’s Thief steals the show
Note: Arrow Video’s Thief Blu-ray is available direct from their website and is locked to Region B.
Michael Mann leaped out of the gate back in 1981 with his stellar film debut: Thief. Thief was written and directed by Mann and stars James Caan as Frank, a no nonsense safecracker, who speaks in an eloquent but stern manner. He never speaks in contractions (there’s no “I’m” or “we’re,” there’s “I am” and “we are”) and doesn’t take crap from anyone.
Frank has a partner named Barry (James Belushi), who helps him during his reconnaissance and as added back up if anything should arise during a job. On one particular job Frank delivers some diamonds to a trader that by osmosis turns diamonds into cold hard cash. When the broker accidentally falls out of the window and the cash for the diamonds go missing, Frank is then introduced to the real movers and shakers that live on the other side of his nameless transactions.
Leo (Robert Prosky) can do it all. He has the cash, the credit, and the power to make and create things from thin air. You want a bigger cut you got it. Frank and his lady friend, Jessie (Tuesday Weld) want a child but she can’t have kids and the adoption agency doesn’t fancy Frank’s checkered past, so Leo steps in and grants him a child, because he “takes care of his friends.” Leo is God in this world of theirs.
James Caan is a revelation as Frank.
James Caan is a revelation as Frank.
Things are looking quite cozy for Frank, Barry, and Jessie but everything has a price and the more jobs Frank does for Leo, the more he becomes Leo’s pawn in the game of thievery. James Caan is a revelation as Frank. I can almost see his character as a prototype for Robert De Niro’s character in Heat. Frank plays the game by ear and if he detects any discrepancies with a job, he handles them accordingly. Prosky as Leo is the ultimate revelation, because here’s this lovable old guy who is smart and methodical and cheerful. You just don’t want to get on his bad side. I should also mention the neat appearance by Willie Nelson as Frank’s incarcerated mentor, Okla. Okla lends a certain sense of authority, because he’s like the father Frank never had.
Outside of The Keep, Thief was the only film of his that I had not seen on any format. Mann went back home to Chicago to film it and created a character in of itself. Mann usually prefers Los Angeles nowadays but Chicago became a living-breathing thing. The film has many scenes of ominous neon going through it along with a pulse pounding synth score by Tangerine Dream punctuated with some jazz beats here and there. The music was also its own character.
Thief started the 1980’s off with a bang and cemented Michael Mann as an important filmmaker along with his stellar cast.
Arrow Films has done an admirable job in bringing Michael Mann’s vision to the Blu-ray format – for the British market – Criterion did it for the North American market. This package also features the theatrical version of the film on a second disc.
Thief is presented in 1.85:1, 1080p, mastered from a 4k source. I did not do a side-by-side comparison with the Criterion Collection copy, but it’s safe to say that they’re from the same vault. Film grain is retained – I did not notice any instances of scrubbing, contrast boosting, or aliasing throughout the film’s entire running time. Sharpness levels were spot on and softness was kept in check.
There are lots of scenes that take place at night or darkly lit interiors and those scenes were downright spectacular. Keep in mind that the film is 35-years old. Black levels were deep and inky and free of any crush or compression artifacts. The color wheel (yes, there’s lots of contention on that topic) looks great. With the exception of a few scenes early on in the film – mainly some darkly lit exteriors – I only noticed a minor teal push. Please do not go by some sources on the Internet that says that the film was “tealed” to death. It’s not true.
As far as the theatrical film goes – the film was not remastered in 4k and it shows. Noise, debris, and artifacts litter the film throughout; colors are much warmer than the final film Mann approved, which in my opinion, do the film more harm than good. Mann’s version, whether it’s right or wrong, is much “colder” than the almost “hot” version of his original cut is. I think it works better and puts the viewer in a different state of mind. I may watch the theatrical cut again just to see if it sinks in, but as it is presented, it’s quite garish. We work with what we have I suppose.
Thief is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The theatrical cut is presented in English LPCM 2.0. Tangerine Dream fans rejoice! The 5.1 score does the synth score justice as the does isolated 2.0 track that accompanies the theatrical.
The lossless 5.1 soundtrack is free of any major defects. My only complaint is that the LFE channel is pretty weak. There are long stretches of film that have zero low-end bass extension. What it does have in spades is crisp dialogue levels, dynamic rear channel presence, and a pleasant 360-degree sound field. Action (and it has its share) is adequately processed and never feels jumbled or busy. Audio separation is clean and free of distortion. I will say that during some scenes that feature explosions are audibly muffled but that’s the way explosions sounded in the 1980’s. The theatrical cut of the film presented in 2.0 may be more suited to music fans of synth scores. The isolated 2.0 track on that disc is excellent.
Arrow Films has thought wisely to include Mann’s original theatrical cut of the film as a solo endeavor on disc #2. On that alone the extras get a boost to an almost perfect score. In addition to the theatrical cut of the film, disc #1 also has several extras worthy of note.
Audio Commentary – Michael Mann and James Caan sit down and talk about Thief. This is a dated audio commentary track from the mid-90’s.
The Directors: Michael Mann – This is a 2001 episode of the television show that focuses on Michael Mann. It’s 60 minutes long and features interviews with the actors that have starred and co-starred in most of Mann’s films over the years. This is an entertaining program.
Hollywood USA: James Caan – This is French television show that focuses on James Caan shortly after completing his work on Thief. Caan seems to take what the interviewer says in stride and keeps everything lively and very cheeky. Look out for a 5-year old Scott Caan to make an appearance on the fishing boat they’re on. The show is presented in English, with French burnt-in subtitles.
The Art of the Heist – Produced by Red Shirt Pictures, this audio interview with writer and critic F.X. Feeney was conducted in the fall of 2014 and chronicles the making of the film. There are some very fascinating tidbits of information here.
Stolen Dreams – Red Shirt Pictures also produced this new interview with James Caan and he talks about preparing for the film’s shoot.
Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for Thief.
Thief – The theatrical cut of the film is presented in HD and in LPCM 2.0 stereo.
Isolated Score – There is a 2.0 isolated score option for the film.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.