Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 27th, 2015
BluRay released: February 2nd, 2015
Approximate running times: 125 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 122 Minutes (Theatrical Cut)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: LPCM 5.1 English (Director’s Cut), LPCM Stereo English (Theatrical Cut)
Subtitles: English SDH (Both Versions)
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region B (UK)
Retail Price: £17.99 (UK)
Synopsis: A career criminal named Frank that has a knack for cracking safes, especially those containing high-profile diamond jobs, he has become weary of the life he is living. And after several years of pulling of similar heists and serving one long term in prison, he finally decides that he wants to lead a normal life that would include a wife and kids. From there he sets a financial goal that he needs if he ever wants to see his dreams of being a family man come true. Now with a firm idea of what he needs to do Frank suddenly finds himself at a crossroads. He can go on working like he has been or he could go for the much larger score that he is being offered by a gangster that wants Frank to work for him?
In the 1980’s Michael Mann was more known for his work on television producing such shows like ‘Crime Story’ and ‘Miami Vice’, especially the latter which bears many of stylistic choices that has since become synonymous with Mann’s films. And though his more recent films have led to a reappraisal to his three theatrical feature films from the 1980’s. There was a time when three films were not well received. Out of Mann’s theatrical output from the 1980’s no film has benefited more from said reappraisals then Mann’s feature film debut the Neo Noir thriller Thief.
The starting point for Thief is a novel tiled ‘The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar’ written by John Allen Seybold, a jewel thief under the pseudonym Frank Hohimer. Mann is a director who is known wanting to realism in his films and for Thief, he would hire John Allen Seybold as a consultant. Another way that Thief instantly grabs you and pulls you in is that the film place at real locations throughout Chicago.
The film’s narrative is tightly constructed with a great amount of detail paid attention to the safe cracking sequences. The film is populated with well-defined characters and their motivations are crystal clear. Also there is an intensity that is established in the film’s opening moments and this firmly sets the tone for the rest of the film. And when it comes to pacing things move along a brisk pace that is in step with this film’s protagonist need to keep moving forward to his ultimate goal.
Thief would mark cinematographer Donald E. Thorin’s (An Officer and a Gentleman, Tango & Cash) only collaboration with Mann. The film visuals is a textbook example of how a Neo Noir should look. Whether is be the striking use of colors like red and blue or other subtitles that heightened the mood. There is never moment where the film does not look exquisite.
The score for Thief was composed by Tangerine Dream whose other notable film scores include, Sorcerer, Risky Business, Legend and The Keep, which was also directed by Mann. And their synthesized score for Thief perfectly echoes the events which unfold in this film.
As mentioned before one of this film’s strengths are its well-defined characters. And when it comes to the performances in this film the entire cast are all amazing in their respective roles, especially James Caan (The Godfather, Freebie and the Bean) in the role of this film’s protagonist Frank. He totally immerses himself into the character and by the time the film ends it is impossible to think of another actor who could have brought more to the role. Needless to say his portrayal of Frank is without a doubt the best performance of his career. Three other performances of note include Tuesday Weld (Pretty Poison, Looking for Mr. Goodbar) in the role of Frank’s girlfriend / wife Jesse, James Belushi (The Principal) in the role of Barry, he assists Frank with the diamond heists and Robert Prosky in the role Leo, a mob boss who is determined to not let Frank walk away from the diamond heists. Other recognizable cast member include Willie Nelson (Honeysuckle Rose), Dennis Farina and William Petersen, these latter two actors would reunite with Mann for Manhunter. Overall Thief is an extraordinary film that has not lost any of its allure.
This release comes with two versions of the film. Disc one a 50 GB dual layer (44.2 GB) BluRay contains the director’s cut, while disc two a 50 GB dual layer (36.1 GB) BluRay contains the theatrical version. Both films are presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. Also all of the extra content is on disc one and the only thing on disc two is the aforementioned theatrical cut.
The transfer for the director’s cut features a 4K master that was sourced from the 35mm original camera negative. Also this transfer uses the same source that was used for Criterion’s Blu-Ray release. The amount of clarity is exceptional, color saturation is rock solid and details look sharp, with a marked improvement in regards to darker moments. Flesh tones look accurate, contrast and black levels look superb throughout, grain looks natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression.
The theatrical cut is sourced from an older master and obviously is does not look as immaculate as the director’s cut does. Colors tend to fluctuate, black levels lack stability and details are not as crisp, especially during darker moments. Also grain looks like it is intact, there are no issues with compression and print debris varies in degree throughout.
The director cut comes with two audio options, a LPCM 5.1 mix in English and a LPCM stereo mix in English. The theatrical cut comes with two audio options, a LPCM stereo mix in English and an Isolated Music and Effects Track.
The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is the strongest of the mix as it has a tremendous amount of range and the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack sound have never sounded better than they do on this audio mix. The film’s score sounds appropriately robust, dialog is always clear and everything sounds balanced. The second audio mix included with the director’s cut is in great shape as everything sounds clean, clear, balanced and robust when it needs too.
The theatrical cut comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD stereo mix and quality wise it is one par with the DTS-HD stereo mix that was included with the director’s cut. This releases second audio track a music and effects track is much welcomed addition. Also included with this release is removable English SDH subtitles for both versions.
Extras for this release include, a trailer for the film (1 minute 53 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen), a vintage interview with actor James Caan from the French TV series ‘Ciné’ (24 minutes 38 seconds – 1.33:1 aspect ratio progressive widescreen) and a brand new interview with James Caan (14 minutes 32 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen), a lengthy video essay with writer and critic F.X. Feeney titled ‘The Art of the Heist’ (66 minutes 29 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen), a 2001 documentary titled ‘The Directors: Michael Mann’ (59 minutes 28 seconds – 1080 progressive) and an audio commentary with writer-director Michael Mann and actor James Caan.
Topics discussed in the vintage interview with James Caan include, music, fishing, what peaked his interesting to become an actor, how he prepares for a role by reading a script one time and then he builds he character from there, how he chooses the film’s he wants to work on and he discusses various films that he has worked on.
Topics discussed in the new interview with James Caan include, going to a gun range to prepare for his role in Thief, how he does not like portraying the same role twice, how he meet Michael Mann and why he choose to do the film Thief, his thoughts on Frank the character he portrays in the film, on set memories about the cast & crew, the film’s ending and an alternate ending he would have liked where Frank survives and reunites with his wife Jessie.
The essay with F.X. Feeney is an insightful discussion that covers in great detail all the areas of Thief’s production and how many of the themes that appear in Thief reappear throughout Mann’s filmograpy. He also discusses key sequences in the film and the film’s score.
The documentary titled ‘The Directors: Michael Mann’ is a career overview that covers all of his films up to Ali.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary with Michael Mann and James Caan include, locations featured in the film, they also talk in depth about characters in the film, the score, the cast, preparing for the role of Frank, they talk about keys sequences in the film and their thoughts on the film’s ending. It should be noted that this is not the liveliest of audio commentary tracks and that there are several stretches of silence.
Rounding out the extras for this limited edition release is a slip cover, a reversible cover art option, and fourteen page booklet with cast & crew credits, an essay written by Brad Stevens titled “Stealing Back Thief’ and information about the transfer. Overall another exceptional release from Arrow Video and a strong contender for the best release of 2015, highly recommended.
Note: All screenshots in this review have been taken from the director’s cut.