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Sunday, May 27, 2012

TEN REASONS you have to see... THIEF! (1981)

1. Heist movies and sports movies. Two things that Hollywood can do with their eyes closed and still make a somewhat entertaining movie. I am so sick of heist movies. The formula - One last robbery before he can retire, but he has to do the job with some unknown element that goes against his code so things end poorly. You know it when you go into them that there will be nothing different. But unlike formula horror films, this type of picture is hard to screw up. Even a train wreck can be watchable. Same with sports films. we are geared to cheer at the end when the underdog goes the distance. I hate sport movies too. Heist and sports films, just don't watch them. I don't watch any horror movies that start with teens running off to the woods for spring break either. Just been there too many times and like I said, a horror movie relies on timing and atmosphere and some finesse to make it effective. It's easy to screw it up. Heist movies just need to throw out the steps in the right order and you will get into it. I don't like the Pavlov bell response I get from these type of movies. I would rather just avoid them. MY POINT! "Thief" is awesome.

2. You like Michael Mann movies? They are kind of a grab bag you know. I can watch the robbery in Heat all day long. His entire career lives in that scene's shadow. I loved The Keep as a child, and still love that film's mood, while still not understanding what is going in. Who is Sam Shepard in that movie? Jesus? Huh? I love that he's gone digital and his amber streetlights in Collateral where so neat. But that Miami Vice movie was two hours of agony. His movies are pretty, and the set pieces are brilliant, but you have to get through some long stretches to get there, and I don't usually like the characters he puts up there. They are all arrogant assholes. All of them. If he shoots a baby, the baby comes off like an asshole. ANYWAY! Thief is the most completely satisfying movie Mann has made. It is a tight little cinematic time bomb. Crackerjack baby! Cracker.... JACK! He shows all his strengths here.

3. All the characters are assholes, but it just works here. James Caan is THE antihero, but man you really understand and like him here, and he is really convincing as a guy who has spent 11 years in a violent prison. I mean his voice is. His voices and his delivery of his lines is dead on. He has this nervous twitch in his voice, sometimes nasal. It's such a wonderful vocal performance. Cann is a little too pretty for the role, but ya know that's Hollywood. The guy who they based a lot of the film on is in the film playing a corrupt cop, and he looks like a beaten shoe. Most movie goers want to see pretty people doing cool things. Joe Spinell was in the original Maniac, Eliza Wood is in the remake. That's how it goes. So Caan carries the movie, but just superimpose a beaten shoe over his face and it will seem more realistic.

4. I hate it in movies when the main character comes out and says what he wants in life, unless it is the end of Rambo 2...

... but in Thief he just has a little picture he looks at, like a little dream collage he made, and that was okay. You get a pass. Just keep it locked up in your unicorn diary.
5. This movie has great tough guy talk. Mann is great at writing tough guys being belligerent. I cheered at a lot of the lines, poetic. Especially the bad guy, well, the main bad guy, well, the antihero's nemeses. The actor is Robert Prosky, and he's in every movie, but the speech he gives to demoralise Caan is vicious! I could listen to it all day. Also there is this great monologue about prison life at a late night diner and it is terrifying. IMDB says that it was a true story! Remind me never to go to prison.

6. Speaking of the badguy, he dies screaming in this. A bad movie becomes a good movie if the lead heavy dies screaming. It's a scientific certainty. I rewatched Lethal Weapon recently, and was surprised how crappy it was, but it does redeem itself buy having the villain die screaming. I could have used more screaming in Thief, but let's move on

7. Tuesday Weld is here, I mainly know her as the nails on the chalkboard wife in Falling Down, but I guess she was a bit of a sexpot back in the day. She plays a convincing gal who always falls for the wrong guy. Not much to do, but this isn't a Lifetime movie of the week, we got tough guys to blow away. The interesting thing about her relationship with Caan is that she's just one thing on his list that he wants, a part of his perfect picture, he sees her as something to check off the list. SO ROMANTIC!

8.  You like Dennis Farina? No opinion, huh. Well, me neither until this movie. He plays a silent enforcer with a shotgun and a black trench coat. One mean scary mamajamma. You walk away thinking, "Hey, I like that Dennis Farina!"

9. There is a great factory in this, all smelting steel and sparks and hellfire. You would think they had wandered into a Highlander movie. But it's pretty. All Mann's movies are pretty, and his factory is great. This is Mann's first theatrical movie, and he really went into overdrive to leave a visual impression. The night scenes are so perfect, all the streets are are sprayed down and reflecting all the streetlights and so great. Really for me, the star of the movie was the night photography. It was 1980 Chicago with those cars and the dirt and it's just a time and place and Mann showing off, marking his territory. Just a site to behold. The day stuff is flat and boring, but when the sun does down, this movie explodes.

10. Hey look! Willie Nelson! He is a pretty good actor. Everybody is good in this. I think Willie Nelson in the early 80's was something of an icon. He was in alot of movies. My dad loved Willie Nelson. He has one scene here, blows it away.

SHOW STOPPER! - Not really a scene, but Tangerine Dream has such an incredible score in this. It is perfection. Electrosynth loops, like expensive John Carpenter music, like 50 tracks all going and making this wall of awesome that washes over you and pushes the movie along. It gives the movie such a distinctive personality. High tech. I don't care for Tangerine Dream in all cases, but it is a perfect fusion here. I can not imagine this movie being worth writing about if it had not been wrapped in the Tangerine Dream music.

PAIRS WELL WITH - Drive (2011)


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