Michael Mann has always been an interesting filmmaker. He has several Oscar nominations. He is highly regarded among his peers. And yet, after more than 40 years of Michael Mann movies, I still think his best work was the two television series he created, the innovative Miami Vice and the (even better, in my view) Crime Story. I've never hated a Michael Mann movie, and I've actively liked a couple.
So I was glad to finally see his feature debut, Thief, because I think it's his best film. His style is already evident, but Thief isn't an example of style over substance. Mann gives us a picture of a man who thinks he has found a way to finally get through the crap of his life. That the man is a thief matters in terms of our enjoyment because Mann called on several real-life thieves as consultants (and in some casts, gave them parts in the film), so while I don't know anything about stealing jewels, I'm convinced that what I'm seeing is real. Mann uses the actual equipment real thieves use, and breaks down heists in such detail that you almost think you've learned how to pull off the robbery yourself.
He gets great performances from his leads. James Caan is as good as he ever was, and the underrated Tuesday Weld delivers, as well. (I'm always reminded of what David Thomson once wrote about her name change: "If she had been 'Susan Weld' she might now be known as one of our great actresses.") Caan has said that outside of The Godfather, Thief is his favorite of his films. And he thinks that this scene is the best work of his career: