Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 8/7/98
Special Director's Edition
- 1981 (1998) - MGM
review by Todd Doogan,
special to The Digital Bits
A rain-slicked, neon-lit modern day film noir, that gave James Caan
a reason to exude enough testosterone to scare away a kodiak bear. A
movie that travels no new ground.
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B+
Typical sound, good video and your standard director's edition
extras. No new ground covered here either.
Overall Rating: B
Here's a flick that really wasn't "cool" enough, in that
manly way, to be fondly remembered by manly movie fans. It's just
okay - and ironically, so is the disc.
124 minutes, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL
dual-layered (layer switch at 81:05, between chapters 22 and 23),
Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Michael
Mann and James Caan, footage not shown in theaters edited into film,
theatrical trailer, film themed menus, scene access (32 chapters),
languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish,
When it comes to director Michael Mann's work, I personally don't
have much fanboy stake in it. He made TV shows that didn't really
impact me (Miami Vice), he
tried to make Daniel Day-Lewis into an sympathetic action star in
The Last Of The Mohicans and
he blew too much hot air into Heat,
spoiling that whole Pacino/De Niro on screen together again for the
first time thing. I did like his version of Thomas Harris' Red
Dragon entitled Manhunter,
although it looked too much like an NBC made-for-TV movie. Still,
having Hannibal Lecter caged in Atlanta's High Museum of Art was a
nice touch. I live here in Atlanta, and every time I go there with
my ex-girlfriend (we have a joint membership - so it's like a prison
to me anyway) I run down through the staircase like I'm William
Peterson's character running from Lecter's words and intrusive mind.
It's stuff like that, that show why we're probably ex's, huh?
But, I'm sure somebody out there thinks Mann is a brilliant
filmmaker, and today we're going to take a look at his first film -
and his first title released to DVD. Oh, boy, let's go.
Thief is the story of Frank,
the best safe cracker and jewel thief in Chicago. As played by James
Caan, Frank is the coolest guy in the world. What he says goes, and
that's it. He's assembled a collage piece that he keeps stuffed in
his wallet. His life plan is to have every piece that is on the
paper in his life. He wants a nice house, a pretty wife and 2.5
kids. Since getting out of the can, he's right at the point he needs
to be to make his dream come true. He has almost enough money to get
out of the life, he has enough legitimate business deals set that he
can go straight, and he has a good partner in Jim "Don't call
me John" Belushi. So Frank starts to take the steps. Jessie
(Tuesday Weld) is a coffee shop waitress that Frank loves very
deeply, and he promises himself that he is going to come clean on
what he does and slowly get out of it - for her. To cement this
promise he buys a nice home for his new wife and together they try
to adopt a nice little boy to raise - the puzzle is almost complete.
The problem is, Frank is a career criminal with a file as thick as
James Belushi's belly. What's a criminal to do when the adoption
people turn him down? Hook up with the biggest crime boss in Chicago
played by Robert Prosky, of course. Forget about scenery, this guy
eats the camera, folks.
Prosky opens up another world to Frank. Anything he needs, he gets.
Need a truck-full of equipment? Done. What about a stack of bills?
Sure. How about a black market kid? No problem. Frank's life starts
chugging along fine, so that he is at a point where one more heist
will make his life complete and he can get out for good. Wasn't it
Al Pacino who said in Godfather III,
"Just when I thought that I was out; they pull me back in"?
So the story goes here.
Thief looks nice, and it plays out well on screen - it's just a bit
too . . . 80s for me. It was too 80s for me in the 80s, and it's too
80s now. It's shot like an MTV video, water on the road, neon in the
air and a nice Tangerine Dream soundtrack to punch the point even
more. I keep waiting for Bobby Brown to come strutting across the
screen with a bunch of dancers in tow. The story has been done
before (and better) and James Caan is always the same to me.
Personally, I'd rather remember him as Sonny from The
As a DVD, MGM did an okay job. The menu screens are spiffy (like
that word?) and as you bounce to and fro, a bright welders flame
bursts through your screen. It has to be seen, it really is neat
(what about that word?). The print shows a little bit of compression
problems, which are more noticeable on the disc because of the rain,
fog and dark atmosphere. It's not so much that it brings attention
to itself, but it's there. The sound is really sharp. The soundtrack
music is nicely remastered and the effects (and there are lots)
really knock you on your butt. I found myself liking the film a
little because of the great sound field on this disc.
Extras include a director's cut of the film, with some violent
footage edited back in. I couldn't tell what was what - because I
didn't pay attention to the original version, and have no source to
compare to. There is also MGM's standard 8-page booklet of facts,
and what I found to be a bahh-ahhh-ahhh-oring commentary track
featuring Mann and Caan (hee-hee, Man and Can). These are too fellas
from Chicago, over 'ere talkin' back and fort jes aboowt whatevah
pops into dere minds. I didn't find it interesting, I doubt you will
- but it's there if you want it. There are a few nuggets of trivia
throughout that, if you care, will make your day that much more
This disc is no big deal, it's an okay edition of an okay flick. If
you're a fan, this is something you'll want to own. It's a good
representation with just a smidgen of noise. If you could care less
for it... it's no big whoop if you get it, it's not big whoop if you