Features and Columns · Movies

30 Things We Learned from the ‘Thief’ Commentary

By  · Published on September 7th, 2011

Quick, name the best film directed by Michael Mann about career criminals. Yeah, you probably just blurted out Heat without giving it a second thought, and you’d be about 58,396 miles from being alone. However, you’d be wrong. Before you start going off about “matter of opinion” and “how can he say these words” repeat these after me. “Heat is NOT, I repeat, NOT, Michael Mann’s best film.” There, now doesn’t that feel loads better?

Oh, what’s that? you want to know what is Michael Mann’s best film? Let’s go back to 1981 where Mann offered up his second feature film, Thief, a film about a career criminal trying for his one last score – you can forgive this particular film for that cliche. It was the catalyst for all these other heist films using it that runs over the surface of rainy, Chicago streets. It’s cool. It’s energetic. It features one of James Caan’s best performances. So, here, in honor of all the inspiration the film brings to Refn’s Drive, we offer up what Mann and Caan had to say about this milestone-of-cool film in their respective careers.

You can even go watch Heat afterwards. I’ll forgive, but remember those words.

Thief (1981)

Commentators: Michael Mann (writer, director), James Caan (Frank), about 22 gallons of liquid cool

Best in Commentary

“There wasn’t a gesture you did or a tool you used or an attitude you had that wasn’t anchored in some history.” – Mann to Caan regarding his becoming of Frank

“The thing that really impresses me about the movie and that sticks out in the movie for me as an actor and as a theater goer is that the characters in this movie, unlike every other picture I see, solely drive this movie.” – Caan

“Of course I had my helping of raw meat that night, and it didn’t bother me.” – another head-scratcher from Caan. God love him.

Final Thoughts

Loooooooooooong gaps in commentary. That’s what I notice most about this commentary track. Michael Mann and James Caan seem to have great admiration for their work on Thief. Even though some of the commentary is them pointing people out they remember from the set or Caan simply yelling out someone’s nickname, there’s still something much more they could have been saying during those gaps. The big heist scene is almost completely devoid of commentary. It’s also a scene with minimal dialogue, so I shouldn’t have to be checking my audio settings to make sure the commentary track got turned off. Also much of the commentary is spent reiterating the point of what Frank wants with his life, how he has very nearly achieved it, and how he has to regress to defend it.

All in all, a bit underwhelming, especially with Mann’s filmography and Thief being one of his first movies – and in my opinion his best. I can’t won’t say much specifically regarding Caan. You don’t want to cross that man. He knows where the bodies are buried. Hell, he buried half of them himself.

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