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Thief

Year: 1981
Production Co: Mann/Caan Productions
Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann
Cast: James Caan, James Belushi, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky, Willie Nelson, Dennis Farina

I've never been the most devoted fan of Michael Mann's films, particularly his earlier stuff, and this movie just cemented my opinion of him. Cineastes tie themselves in knots talking about what a spectacular visualist he is, and while some of the work shot on the streets of downtown Chicago at night in the beginning by he and DP Donald Thorin is impressive, the story is nothing to write home about and the emotional disengagement I felt took most of that sheen off.

It also might be that the 'one last job' motif in the crime thriller genre was more exciting in the early 80s, but I've seen it done so many times since with far more emotional urgency and panache than this - for most of it, it feels like protagonist Frank (James Caan) barely cares about what's going on, so I didn't either.

He's a successful criminal with skills in safecracking (as we see in the early scene that introduces him) who runs two front companies to launder his takes, but like the best of them, Frank wants out. He's started seeing a pretty diner cashier (Tuesday Weld), and when the fence of his latest job turns up dead, Frank smells a rat. He follows the trail all the way to mob boss Leo (Robert Prosky, the slimeball junkyard owner from Christine ), who offers him a deal that seems too good to be true – work for Leo and he'll organise a score that will see Frank with a big enough take to get clear completely.

But Frank commits the mortal sin of trusting people as untrustworthy as he is, and when the takes from jobs Leo talks him into don't materialise and he starts throwing his weight around, the powerful crime lord turns nasty. Suddenly everything Frank loves, from his girlfriend and the baby they've adopted through nefarious means (after the state adoption agency has turned them down) to his longtime partner Barry (James Belushi, looking barely out of his teens), is under threat.

Something else in the script or maybe the performances might have made me care about Frank, Barry or the other people trying to fenangle their way out of a life of crime, but I have no idea what. They all just felt like scumbags all-too ready to stab each other in the back to get ahead, and I was neither surprised nor particularly caring when they all fell into the same bloodied, fiery pit of the consequences to their decisions.

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