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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

Film Rating: C
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.

Specs and Features

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, Close Captioned


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 Godfather.

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 sunny.

Bottom line

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 don't.

Todd Doogan
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