Blu-ray Review Thief Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Jan 21, 2014.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    XenForo Template Thief Blu-ray Review

    Director Michael Mann’s first foray into feature filmmaking was Thief, a slick, tough character study of one of the cinema’s most unique career criminals. Blessed with eye-catching visuals and a charismatic leading performance by its star, Thief manages to supersede the somewhat dated Tangerine Dream synthesized score that envelops it and still make a hard-hitting impact on the viewer.

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    Studio: Criterion

    Distributed By: N/A

    Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

    Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA

    Subtitles: English SDH

    Rating: Not Rated

    Run Time: 2 Hrs. 4 Min.

    Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD

    keep case

    Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

    Region: A

    Release Date: 01/14/2014

    MSRP: $39.95




    The Production Rating: 4/5

    Career criminal Frank (James Caan) is living a comfortable life in Chicago; he has a couple of legitimate businesses that mask his evening activities as a burglar deluxe specializing only in thefts involving uncut diamonds or cash. He also has a utopian life planned for himself by making someday enough money to offer the woman of his dreams Jessie (Tuesday Weld) a life without monetary care, a beautiful home, a child, and his old prison mentor Okla (Willie Nelson) a place to hang his hat for the rest of his days. Crime boss Leo (Robert Prosky) offers Frank just what he wants: he manages to get Okla released early, he arranges for the couple to adopt a child on the black market, and he sets up high paying scores for Frank and his crew (James Belushi, Bill Brown). But Frank has always relished being an independent contractor, and when he later learns that his arrangement with Leo comes with strings attached, his idyllic dreams of living the good life begin to crumble.Michael Mann both directed the film and wrote the screenplay taking next to nothing from the book credited in the main titles The Home Invaders by Frank Hohimer (in fact, at one point, Frank specifically proclaims he doesn’t do home invasions). This is an intense look at one tough cookie: a criminal who isn’t afraid of a crime boss or the police because he has no fear of death. Interestingly, as the film runs and Frank begins to enjoy the time with Jessie and their child David, we see some cracks begin to develop in his armor: he has something to live for now and someone to fight for other than himself. It’s a turning point in the film when he comes to this realization, and it leads the film into its violent, cathartic denouement. In his first theatrical film, Mann often lets scenes run on too long: the initial robbery lasts almost ten minutes before we get to know any of the characters, and we watch an endless burglary of a safe late in the film, and while the visuals are rather dazzling, the torch slowly cutting through the steel safe does tend to drag out the movie’s running time unnecessarily. Mann’s script is also brazenly satiric of the local political machine in Chicago: from cops to judges, everyone seems to be on the take as almost a God-given right. Mann certainly doesn’t flinch from the beatings and shootings that punctuate the narrative, and he films them in an interesting variety of angles and distances.James Caan gives one of his best performances as the title character. He seems a plausible hooligan through all of the film, but a scene of outrage at the adoption office seems for the first time to reveal his deep sense of heart and hurt as well as his familiar tough guy persona. His two scenes with the very effective Willie Nelson also betray a man who has a lot of love to give to those who he feels are worthy of it. Tuesday Weld’s character isn’t as well written, a woman who melts too easily into the thief’s eager arms and then tries to use reason with him at the end of the film when things have fallen apart. It’s not the actress’ fault clearly; the writer-director simply didn’t have as clear a handle on her character as he did on the character of the leading man. In his first film role, Robert Prosky as the evil, manipulative Leo is superb melding a grandfatherly beneficence with cold-hearted indifference at the proper moments. James Belushi is mostly silent as Frank’s main assistant, but John Santucci as a cop who almost reeks of malfeasance makes a striking impression.


    Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA

    The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. At its best, the sharpness level reveals many details in hair and facial features, but occasional shots aren’t as razor-edged as others. Color is nicely balanced, and skin tones are entirely natural. Black levels are sometimes erratic, too, often inky but sometimes a little on the gray side though shadow detail in just fine. There are some spotty moiré patterns that turn up in grille work. The film has been divided into 31 chapters.



    Audio Rating: 4/5

    The original stereo masters have been remixed into a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Even using modern audio sensibilities, the film’s two channel origins are fairly obvious with the sound effects spread mostly across the front with only occasional use of the rears. Tangerine Dream’s heavy, sometimes imposing and other times oppressive electronic score does get a nice spread through the entire soundstage. Dialogue has also been well recorded and resides in the center channel.


    Special Features Rating: 3.5/5

    Audio Commentary: director Michael Mann and star James Caan sit together and comment and chuckle their way through the film in an average audio commentary track.Michael Mann Interview (24:18, HD): Variety’s Scott Foundas interviews the director in 2013 about his earlier TV work and his memories of working on Thief.James Caan Interview (10:39, HD): the star of the film remembers preprarations for the film and relationships with various members of the cast and crew.Johannes Schmoelling Interview (15:40, HD): the former member of Tangerine Dream recalls being asked to do the score and what it was like working with Michael Mann.Theatrical Trailer (1:53, HD)Twenty-Two Page Booklet: contains the chapter listing, the cast and crew lists, some color stills, and journalist Nick James’ essay on the movie.Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.DVD: included in the case with these dual-format releases.


    Overall Rating: 4/5

    A unique directorial approach for film was initiated in Michael Mann’s Thief, and the quirky drama still packs a good-sized wallop even today. The movie’s unusual visuals and one-of-a-kind soundtrack are shown in their best light in Criterion’s new release. Recommended!


    Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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  2. Jesse Skeen

    Jesse Skeen Producer

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    So is this the theatrical cut, or the 'extended' version that was on laserdisc and the prior DVD? The Tangerine Dream score may be a bit dated by now, but it's one of my favorites- always love electronic scores, even when they're cheesy.
     
  3. Bob Cashill

    Bob Cashill Cinematographer

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    It's a new version, the last and longest, with an improving edit or two to the extended version. The Mondo Digital site review (or was it DVD Drive in?) addresses this and mentions that the now-classic score was a Razzie nominee.
     
  4. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    I'm sure Bob is right. If it were the theatrical cut, it would have come with an R rating, and this package contains a cut of the film that is unrated.
     
  5. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    I've always loved this film.

    Two interesting tidbits of trivia:

    1. Most of Tangerine Dream's score was lifted from their 1979 album Force Majeure, which also contains samplings that were later used in another big Hollywood film, Risky Business. Amazon currently has the album as an MP3 download for $3.87.

    2. Keep an eye open for a young William Petersen as the bartender. Mann would later cast him in Manhunter as FBI profiler Will Graham, and Thief producer Jerry Bruckheimer got him interested in starring and co-producing CSI.
     
  6. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    As much as I like Michael Mann's earlier films, he's almost as bad a George Lucas when it comes to constantly re-cutting his movies.
     
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  7. Moe Dickstein

    Moe Dickstein Filmmaker

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    His film, he can do what he likes to it.
     
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  8. Brett_M

    Brett_M Screenwriter

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    One of my favorite films. I often watch this and Heat back to back. They make a great one-two punch crime thriller marathon.
     
  9. chas speed

    chas speed Second Unit

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    One stupid thing he added in his director's cuts is a scene at the start of the film where Caan comes across a black man fishing. The man says "that's magic that's what that is". This scene has nothing to do with anything and grinds the movie to a halt. The movie did take the basic outline of the book, an ex-con thief makes a bad deal with the mob, but that's about it. The real home invader in the book only robbed homes when someone was home and would leave if he found out the house was empty. I never thought that made any sense.
     
  10. davidHartzog

    davidHartzog Cinematographer
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    Great film I saw at the time. Many of the actors, crew, themes, music would show up later in the shows Miami Vice, Crime Story, Private Eye, and Heat.
     
  11. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    First off, thanks very much to Matt for the fine review. This was a Day 0 purchase for me. I've liked the movie since the early 80s.

    I didn't realize there was a slightly different cut of the movie on the disc, but with Michael Mann, it doesn't surprise me. He has regularly tinkered with his movies on DVD and Blu-ray. I believe the cut of Heat on Blu-ray is a little different from the original theatrical version, but I don't recall what changes he made.

    David is absolutely right that a lot of the actors, crew and elements of this movie would repeat themselves throughout Michael Mann's career in film and television. I should note that he actually didn't have anything to do with the TV series Private Eye. That was actually started by Anthony Yerkovich, who wrote the pilot script for Miami Vice but was edged out after five episodes. Granted, Yerkovich tried to apply the same ideas from Vice to a 1950s milieu but it didn't work and the show was quickly cancelled. I remember them airing episodes of Vice and Private Eye one after the other on Friday nights in fall 1987.

    Thief has a basic plot idea that Michael Mann has used in at least three different television series and four or five movies, all the way up to Public Enemies, his latest iteration of it. It's the notion of a tough loner who lives by a strict code. While he follows that code, he's invincible but alone. Once he starts to break that code and reach out, he becomes vulnerable - and the whole thing comes crashing down. With Thief, you have Frank's independent setup and the choice he makes with Leo. With L.A. Takedown and Heat, you have Neil's code of "Do not have anything in your life you are not prepared to walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat coming around the corner." In both versions of that story, you see the chaos that happens when Neil breaks that rule, just as chaos happens here when Frank breaks his own rules.

    In Miami Vice, Crime Story and Robbery Homicide Division, you have cops following very specific personal codes. The first misstep, and disaster ensues. Crime Story, like L.A. Takedown and Heat, actually expands on the code concept so that you have the main cop following his code, but the main criminal has a different one. Neither side is willing to give an inch, and only one side can win. Thief is an early iteration, in that Frank embodies both sides of the equation. This is similar to what would happen with Oliver Stone's movies a few years later - Platoon and Wall Street would famously provide a basically good protagonist with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. But Salvador has Richard Boyle embody both ideas at the same time, which is a more interesting take on the idea. As an added bit of trivia, Jim Belushi shows up both in Thief and Salvador in supporting roles as a buddy of the main character. I think you could argue that The Insider takes the notion of the code to a new level, in the natures of Bergman and Wigand and what their respective codes do to their lives. But in that movie, it seems to me that neither man actually breaks their own code - they hold to it, even as it is costing them dearly.

    While I don't believe Mann ever worked with James Caan again, a bunch of the other cast indeed pop up in multiple subsequent Mann projects. (I note that William Peterson also did To Live and Die in L.A., William Friedkin's feature film take on themes examined in Miami Vice. There was a column I remember reading in the L.A. Weekly in the mid-80s that noted that William Peterson was effectively becoming the feature film equivalent of Don Johnson at the time...) Dennis Farina, who has just a bit part here as one of Leo's thugs, would go on to make appearances in Manhunter and Miami Vice before retiring from the Chicago PD and scoring the lead role in Crime Story. Santucci would show up in Miami Vice before getting a regular role on Crime Story. (Ironically, Santucci was a convicted criminal in real life, and served not only in the cast of Thief but as a tech advisor. Before they acted together, Dennis Farina had actually arrested Santucci. In Thief, these roles are a bit reversed. But in Crime Story, they would play out an extremely exaggerated version of some moments in their history. (Watching the shakedown scenes between Farina and Santucci in the pilot of Crime Story, it's clear to me that some of this was a bit of reenactment...)

    I've always been fascinated by Mann's singular style. He tends to go with a bold, clean look. Thief really starts this trend off - but Miami Vice takes it to a whole other level. This is a director who isn't afraid of hot neon and pastel colors crashing into a scene. He's also had a strong sense of the ability of music and songs to elevate scenes - and the best moments of Miami Vice would push this about as far as it could go.

    I'm glad Criterion got ahold of this one. Perhaps someday someone will try to resurrect L.A. Takedown and do an examination of that one...
     
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  12. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    I believe I may have caught something missing in the commentary track.

    Keep in mind that the commentary was actually recorded in 1995 or thereabouts for the widescreen laserdisc release of the movie. (During the end credits, Caan references that Mann was currently working on a movie with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro) I have read that the laserdisc commentary continues past the end credits and into a black screen for a brief period. I don't know the specific amount, as I have not seen that laserdisc.

    The DVD released of the movie over ten years ago ported over the commentary, but not all of it. At the very end of the credits, Michael Mann begins a new comment, but is cut off as the file ends.

    The new Criterion use of the commentary ends the discussion with the prior line before Mann starts his new comments. It feels normal on the Criterion commentary as there appears to be a natural end to the comments, but apparently Mann had another thought which continued on past the point where any credits would be shown.

    I'm curious if anyone here has actually heard the end of the commentary on the laserdisc or could comment on it.
     
  13. Moe Dickstein

    Moe Dickstein Filmmaker

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    If I see that LD when I'm out looking for Criterions I'll grab it now.
     
  14. chas speed

    chas speed Second Unit

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    It seems like they cut off a discussion about the end of "Cinderella Liberty" where Caan's character mentions to the kid that they should go to New Orleans to look for his mother. Caan said that should not have been mentioned and that the film should have had an open ending like "Thief".
     

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