Monday, March 31, 2014
THIEF (1981) - Michael Mann
Forget Michael Mann's mesmerizing nighttime shooting. Forget the awesome Tangerine Dream score, the brilliant hardboiled Chi-Town dialogue, the well-researched safecracker details. Forget Willie Nelson, Tuesday Weld, James Belushi. All those things are wonderful, but without the Caan Man you got bupkis. Watching Thief again, for the third or fourth time, I'm convinced it's his best movie. He wears it well, like one of Frank's so-called "800 dollar suits."
You're probably thinking: "What about The Godfather?" The Godfather may be the better movie top to bottom, but Thief is the better Caan performance, the one I'd rather re-watch. Sonny Corleone was an enjoyable hothead, but as Frank in Thief he's a tightly coiled spring. He's running out of time, only opting for violence when it's absolutely necessary, when he's out of other options. For his trade, Frank's a consummate professiona like the man who plays him. If only he'd turned down the mob's shady offer, stuck to freelance.
Want proof? You don't need watch the heist scenes. Just watch the long dialogue scene in the diner where he details for Tuesday Weld his anything-to-survive outlook in prison, then shows her the "life collage" he made and tells her his five-year plan. It's heartbreaking and a little deranged. His conviction to see the plan through no matter what cost is more disturbing than, well, his actual prison conviction. If that's not proof enough, then give the scene at the adoption agency a try, when ex-con Caan and Tuesday go to adopt. First Caan plays nice and humble, then bargains with the social worker for a "less desirable kid," then tries to bribe her with a pinkie ring before going on a full-blown I-was-state-raised manifesto. It's Caan at his best, in all his glory. I'd like to think I'd give him that kid if it was my decision.