Very few films affected me on such a visceral way as did Michael Mann’s first feature THIEF. I saw it at the right time in my life. I love con and caper films, but this hit me on a truly emotional level. It was a gut punch.
The film clip below is one of my favorite scenes from the film and has nothing to do with the mechanics of a heist. It has everything to do with Frank’s (James Cann) relationship to Jessie (Tuesday Weld) and his desire to go straight and do one last big job. Of course, it all goes sideways on him. But not before we learn what it takes to make it in life.
Michael Mann modernized the film noir in THIEF. It’s music, it’s visuals are unique and not a pastiche of film noir.
There was a scene in FIGHT CLUB which had a similar effect on me 18 years later. It is powerful storytelling and filmmaking. As a side note, the film was shot entirely in the Chicago area and the location for this scene has additional meaning for me. It’s the Howard Johnson’s restaurant that was located above Interstate 94 near Lake Forest, Illinois. When I was very young my parents would take me there as a treat. Watching the cars fly down the freeway underneath us as we ate was almost too much to handle for a young boy. It’s why art affects all of us in many different ways.
Roger Ebert in his review stated, “Michael Mann’s ‘Thief’ is a film of style, substance, and violently felt emotion, all wrapped up in one of the most intelligent thrillers I’ve seen. It’s one of those films where you feel the authority right away: This movie knows its characters, knows its story, and knows exactly how it wants to tell us about them.”