07 Scene From Thief

Michael Mann Talks THIEF at the Aero Theatre

I love attending the screenings at the Aero Theatre and am constantly amazed that every single one of these film events aren’t SRO. How is it that this theater doesn’t sell out when there’s a chance to participate in a Q&A with a director like Michael Mann?

Thief was one of Mann’s films that I hadn’t seen, so getting to see the restored version in 4K and presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 from the new 1080p transfer on blu-ray was a real treat. Thief is a 1981 neo-noir film written and directed by Michael Mann and stars James Caan in the title role. The screenplay is 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). Thief, originally titled Violent Streets, was Mann’s feature film directorial debut, coming on the heels of his TV movie directorial debut on The Jericho Mile, which he also discussed briefly tonight.

The cinematography in Thief reveals many images that have become Mann trademarks, including the menacing vulnerability of the darkness of night which is present in most of his films. Background and scenery that include water elements like lakes and rain are also common in his work, as well as the strong influence driving and cars had over Mann growing up in Chicago. He talked about how he still vividly remembers what it felt like driving over all the bridges around Chicago and the sensations of night driving. Those experiences greatly influence not just the imagery of his work but also the stories he tells. By the way, if you’re a fan of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and you haven’t seen Thief, you need to correct that right away.  Something else noteworthy about the cinematography in Michael Mann films is that he actually operates the camera much of the time himself.

There are other elements that you can see reappearing in Mann’s films, like the powerful impact of his musical selections, collages, abrupt ending, etc. Thief is also a great example of the realism Mann brings to his films. The equipment used during the heists in Thief was the actual gear that would have been used in real-life. The drill James Caan used during the opening scene weighed 200 lbs and Mann wanted Caan to not only know how to use it properly for the film, but also because he felt that Caan’s performance was contingent upon Caan knowing he could actually “crack” the safe. As a matter of fact, Caan’s performance in this film ranks as one of his best and he has said that he considers the scene in the coffee shop with his long monologue costarring Tuesday Weld his career favorite.

Thief also includes the first film appearances of Dennis Farina, William Petersen, James Belushi, and Robert Prosky. Farina was a Chicago police officer at the time and Mann cast him as a henchman, while John Santucci was a paroled safecracker and was cast as a cop. Mann told the audience that he often uses real criminals and police officers but prefers to cast against type, making Thief a crime movie like few others.

Currently Mann is in post-production for his new film Cyber, although he told us that the title will likely be changed before it’s released in 2015.

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