Michael Mann’s 1981 heist thriller “Thief” is not only one of the best crime movies of all time, it’s also one of the most influential. Watching it nowadays, you can see where Mann tried out a lot of things that would later become de rigeur on “Miami Vice” (which Mann produced), but it’s not quite as flashy. “Thief” is unapologetically blue collar. The movie has many stunning and intense scenes (including some heavy graphic violence towards the end). However, for me, this nearly 10-minute dialogue sequence between James Caan and Tuesday Weld is the best scene in the movie. Here’s some setup: Caan’s character has spent most of his adult life in prison. Since he’s gotten out, he’s become an extremely successful safecracker and thief (with a few successful legitimate businesses that act as fronts for his illegal activity). He has a lot of money and material possessions, but he also wants the kind of life “regular” people have, meaning marriage and a family. He senses something in Tuesday Weld’s character that he feels is on his wavelength. You see, Weld’s character too has a past, a shady one she’s trying to forget, even if it now means doing something mundane. Caan’s character, in his clumsy, but direct way, is trying to kickstart his future and take a chance with someone he feels will understand and take the same emotional risk he is. He guesses correctly.
I have never been a big admirer of Michael Mann but loved this movie, released as “Violent Streets” in the U.K. I really do like the films James Caan made when he was a proper movie star. The turns he does in “Bottle Rocket” & “Way of the Gun” improve both of them.
Mann is a bit hit or miss for me as well. In addition to “Thief,” I loved “Heat” and “The Insider” and also thought his TV series “Crime Story” was highly underrated. But after that, I’m not as much of a fan. “Thief” impresses me more and more each year. “Violent Streets” sounds pretty generic for a title, but not quite as generic (or funny) as “Excitement 1995,” the Chinese title for “Shawshank Redemption”. The link below has some funny and weird alternate titles for popular American/British films when released in non-English countries:
As for Caan, he has made some memorable appearances recently, doing a good job playing a weaselly low-level mobster in “Middle Men” (a decent, but predictable “Boogie Nights”/”Goodfellas” rip off about the rise of internet porn and it’s links with the Russian mob).