Directed by Michael Mann
Written by Michael Mann, from a novel by Frank Hohimer
Starring James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi, Robert Prosky, Dennis Farina
James Caan is an underrated actor. For the casual moviegoer, he’s only remembered for playing Sonny Coreleone in The Godfather, the role that brought him to prominence. But he has a long history of excellent performances, and Thief is a case in point.
Caan plays Frank, a professional jewel thief who is looking to settle down a bit with a romance with Jessie (Tuesday Weld). But when Frank’s fence is murdered, he goes to Leo (Robert Prosky) who wants Frank to work with him. Frank is reluctant, but his relationship with Jessie gets serious, so he decided to take it up so they can have a good start.
Of course, things don’t work out that way.
Caan is excellent throughout, playing a man who has long kept his emotions bottled up and is tentatively opening up when things go wrong. It’s really his movie, and he hits all the notes perfectly.
The rest of the cast also was perfect. Robert Prosky was a great villain and Dennis Farina (in his first film role) was menacing as one of his thugs. Even Jim Belushi* puts in a strong performance.
The other star of the movie is the score. Tangerine Dream, a German electronic music group, was chosen to do the score. It was controversial at the time, but the music is integral for setting the mood and creating excitement. Here’s the opening sequence:
The success led to the group being used in quite a few successful films of the 80s. Note, too, how well Caan plays a professional, tossing away jewels that don’t meet his standards.
The film was the first from director Michael Mann. It’s a surprising achievement and it’s clear from the start he would be a major talent. He’s primarily worked as a producer since then, but he certainly has been a major film success.**
In memory of Dennis Farina.
*Who was detestable in According to Jim.