|Directed by||Michael Mann|
|Produced by||Jerry Bruckheimer
|Screenplay by||Michael Mann|
|Story by||Michael Mann|
|Based on||The Home Invaders by
|Music by||Tangerine Dream|
|Editing by||Dov Hoenig|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Release date(s)||March 27, 1981|
|Running time||122 minutes|
|Box office||$11,492,915 (domestic)|
Thief is a 1981 neo-noir film written and directed by Michael Mann and based on the 1975 novel The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar by "Frank Hohimer" (the pen name of real-life jewel thief John Seybold). The film stars James Caan as the titular thief.
Frank (James Caan) is a highly experienced jewel thief and hardened ex-convict who has a set structure to his life. With a pair of successful Chicago businesses (a bar and a car dealership) as fronts for his lucrative criminal enterprise, Frank sets out to fulfill the missing part of his life vision: a family beginning with Jessie (Tuesday Weld), a pretty cashier he has begun dating.
After taking down a major diamond score, Frank's fence, Joe Gags (Hal Frank), is murdered for being on the take - pushed out of a 12th story window. Barry (James Belushi), Frank's friend and associate making the pick-up, discovers that a shady plating company executive Gags was working for is responsible, a Mr. Attaglia (Tom Signorelli). In addition, $185,000 of Frank's fence money was lifted by Attaglia from Gags when he was killed. Frank demands his money back in a tense office hours confrontation at Attaglia's plating company. This leads to a late evening face-to-face meeting with Attaglia's employer, Leo (Robert Prosky), a high-level fence and Chicago Outfit boss. Unknown to Frank, Leo has been downing Frank's "merch" from Gags for some time. He admires Frank's quality fenced goods and professionalism, and wants him taking down contract scores all over the country working directly for him, offering Frank "boxcar" profits. "I'll make you a millionaire in four months," Leo states at their jargon filled meeting, which is monitored from a distance by police surveillance - as well as a hidden Barry and his M1 Carbine in case the meeting goes bad.
At first, Frank is reluctant to consider Leo's offer, not wanting to "deal with egos" nor wanting the added exposure. But later that night at a coffee shop, an emotional bonding with Jessie changes the game when she agrees to be part of his life after he relates a harrowing tale of prison survival by way of a toughened mental attitude. To hasten his plans, Frank now agrees to do just one big score for Leo, telling Barry that this will be their last job. With a little help from the paternal Leo after being rejected at the state adoption agency, Frank is even able to acquire a baby on the black market, a son he names David after his recently deceased mentor and closest friend from prison, nicknamed Okla (Willie Nelson).
Things start heating up on account of Frank's new association with Leo. After resisting a shakedown from a group of corrupt police detectives, then subsequently ditching their surveillance, Frank and his crew are soon involved in a large-scale West Coast diamond heist organized by Leo. All goes well, Frank's big payday finally arrives after the meticulously planned "burn job" is successful, and he is expecting the agreed-upon sum of $830,000 on $4 million wholesale of unmounted stones. But when Frank returns from the job a few days later, Leo tosses him an envelope containing less than $100,000, the "cash part" according to Leo, who also tells him that he has invested the rest of Frank's cut in shopping centers, an idea Frank had flatly rejected during one of their prior meetings. In addition, Leo sets up a Palm Beach score for Frank in six weeks without his approval. An irate Frank bluntly tells Leo that their deal is over, then takes the envelope of cash as he leaves and demands the rest of his money in 24 hours or "...you will wear your ass for a hat."
Frank drives to his car lot to meet with Barry unaware that Leo's henchmen have already beaten and captured Barry, and are waiting in ambush for him. In the set-up, Frank is knocked out with the butt of a carbine and Barry is killed by several shotgun blasts from Carl (Dennis Farina), one of Leo's main enforcers. Frank awakens in a factory warehouse with Leo staring down at him, surrounded by his henchmen. Leo coldly informs him that he, Jessie, their child, and everything he owns are Leo's property. He even cruelly threatens to prostitute Jessie and "...whack out your whole family" if Frank does not continue working for him. Leo warns Frank to "tighten up" and focus on his responsibilities; meanwhile, his henchmen dispose of Barry's body.
Frank goes home to contemplate his next move, gradually sinking into a hardened apathy akin to his prison days. He calmly orders an uncomprehending Jessie out of their house, telling her their marriage is over. He instructs an associate to drive her, the baby and $400,000 in cash somewhere where they cannot be found, informing Jessie more money will be coming at regular intervals, but that he will not be joining her.
With nothing to lose, Frank blows up their home in a fiery nighttime blast using high explosive charges. He then drives to his business establishments and does the same, destroying his bar in a violent explosion then setting fire to his car lot. Armed with his sidearm, he quietly breaks into Leo's house in a peaceful neighborhood and pistol whips Attaglia in the kitchen - which alerts Leo in the living room. Frank then executes a tense room-clearing of the first floor hunting for Leo who is hiding and armed with a .357 Magnum revolver. Leo is inevitably located and gunned down by Frank. Frank then pursues Attaglia as he tries to escape from the house, but is promptly confronted by Carl and another henchman. In the ensuing gunfight, Frank is shot, but manages to kill the trio. Wounded, Frank walks away into the night.
- James Caan as Frank
- Tuesday Weld as Jessie
- Willie Nelson as Okla
- James Belushi as Barry
- Robert Prosky as Leo
- Tom Signorelli as Attaglia
- Dennis Farina as Carl
- Nick Nickeas as Nick
- W.R. Bill Brown as Mitch
- Norm Tobin as Guido
- William Petersen as Katz & Jammer Bartender
- John Santucci as Urizzi
- Gavin MacFadyen as Boreksco
- Chuck Adamson as Ancell
- Sam Cirone as Martello
- Spero Anast as Bukowski
- Hal Frank as Joe Gags
- Patti Ross as Marie
Ronnie Caan served as the film's co-producer. James Caan's emotional several-minute monologue with Weld in a coffee shop is often cited as the film's high point, and Caan has long considered the scene his favorite of his career. Being Michael Mann's feature film directorial debut, Thief showcases many of the cinematic techniques that would be his trademarks in the years to come. Chief among these is the cinematography, utilizing light and shadow to give the proceedings, especially those taking place in the darkness of night, a sense of danger. The film also earns plaudits for its meticulous attention to detail: the tools and techniques of the trade, right down to the oxy lance used to penetrate a safe, are authentic, the result of Mann's decision to hire real-life thieves to serve as technical advisers.
Thief marks the first film appearance of veteran actors Dennis Farina, William Petersen, James Belushi and Robert Prosky. At the time a Chicago police officer, Farina appears as a henchman. Ironically, John Santucci, who plays the role of corrupt cop Urizzi, was a recently paroled thief and acted as a technical adviser on Thief. In 1986, Farina and Santucci both were cast in Michael Mann's TV series Crime Story, Farina as a Chicago police lieutenant and Santucci as a jewel thief. Petersen, who later would star in the Mann film Manhunter, appears briefly as a bouncer at a club.
Originally titled Violent Streets, the film debuted at the 34th Cannes Film Festival. It went on to open in theaters in the United States on March 27, 1981, earning a modest $4.3 million. While not a financial success in its initial release, the film has become a reference point in Mann's career, especially with the release of his crime epic, Heat, with which this movie has many similarities.
The still of Frank holding a gun as he takes Attaglia hostage was used for one of the movie's posters.
Near the end of the film, Frank destroys his house. The film company built a false front onto a real house and attempted to destroy it with explosives. The explosions severely damaged the real house, however, leading to its demolition.
Mann has gained a reputation as a director on the cutting-edge when it comes to the music for his films. Thief's moody soundscapes were composed and performed by Tangerine Dream, providing the first of many notable film compositions they had in the 1980s.