Rating: The Good – 83.6 Genre: Crime Duration: 122 mins Director: Michael Mann Stars: James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson
Michael Mann’s seminal crime thriller focuses on James Caan’s master thief who, in an effort to attain the family he always wanted, eschews his independence and reluctantly agrees to work for a crime king-pin (Robert Prosky) only to find himself locked into an interminable contract. Caan rated this as his best performance outside of Sonny Corleone and he is utterly mesmerising as the balls-of-steel Frank who is willing to sacrifice everything rather than lie down for anyone. Prosky is immense as the old mobster who can switch from genial father-figure to ruthless monster at the drop of a hat. Thief has all the trademarks of the great Mann films. The ultra-real dialogue, the technical proficiency of the criminals, a subtle yet powerful score (courtesy of Tangerine Dream), and slick night time shots of Chicago’s mean streets. Moreover, Mann’s films are often based on the study of obsession and disciplined dedication to one’s craft and nowhere is this better realised than here. The set pieces are as innovative and disciplined as we’ve come across and when combined with the searing performances and inspired dialogue, it becomes truly captivating. Thief is a crime classic and arguably one of the genre’s greatest representatives. It achieves a gritty realism that movies of that genre are always in search of but rarely attain.
While Stephen King has never had a problem with making the idea of possessed machinery scary, the task of doing so in a film might seem foolhardy for anyone to even attempt. However, as John Carpenter had already scared a generation of horror fans with dehumanised gang members, knife wielding mental patients, and ghost pirates, the master of horror seemed the very man to bring the tale of a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury to the big screen and do it justice. And through a combination of his unorthodox directorial style (such as his penchant for keeping the camera on actors a good 10-15 seconds after most directors would’ve yelled “cut”) and some decent performances from his young cast, he manages to do just that – even while removing some of the scarier elements from the book and building the scares solely around the car. Keith Gordon is perfectly sinister in the lead role of the teenager who becomes obsessed with the demonic car. John Stockwell is up and down as his jock friend and Alexandra Paul is decent as the girlfriend. Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky do their usual bit of show-stealing as the more cynical grownups. However, the real star of the show is Carpenter’s electronic score, parts of which brilliantly double as sound effects at crucial junctures. Like all Carpenter’s films, Christine is more sinister than out-and-out shocking so be prepared for a more slow burning type of horror.