Michael Mann’s Thief: A Review by Nate Hill

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With Thief, Michael Mann distilled his crime film style into an archetypal, haunting aura that would go on to influence not only his excellent later work, but other filmmakers as well, everything from Refn’s Drive to the police procedural we see on television today. A style that consists of kaleidoscope neon reflections in rain slicked streets, Chrome cars bulleting through restless urban nocturnes and a lyrical, pulsating score, here provided by underrated German electronic maestros Tangerine Dream, who would go on to provide their dulcet tones for Mann’s phenomenal 1983 The Keep. Thief weaves the age old tale of a master safe cracker(James Caan in a beautifully understated performance) the high stakes at risk of him performing one last job to escape, with said stakes represented as his angelic wife (Tuesday Weld) and newborn son. Robert Prosky in his film debut is a serpentine wonder as Leo, Caan’s boss, whose chilling metamorphosis from paternal employer to domineering monster is a joy to watch. The jewel heist scenes are shot with a researched, assured and authentic feel, spurred on by Tangerine Dreams cosmic rhythms and are especially dynamic points of the film. Thief, for me, belongs that special subcategory of Mann’s career along with Heat, Miami Vice and Collateral, (Public Enemies doesn’t get to come in this elite cinematic treehouse club, it didn’t do anything for me) that are very special crime films. They possess an intangible, ethereal quality of colour, metal, music, and shady people moving about a thrumming urban dreamscape, professionals at what they do, cogs in the ticking clock of crime that inexorably drives toward the narrative outcome, be it bitter confrontation and violence (of which Thief has an absolute gorgeous, poetic revenge sequence) or cathartic resolution (like the conventionally satisfying way Collateral ends). Mann has captured neon lightning in a bottle with Thief, and against the odds of people saying you can’t catch lightning twice, he has spark plugged a good portion of his career with that same lightning, creating an artistic aesthetic all his own. To me that is the ultimate outcome of filmmaking, and art as a medium.

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