***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky, Willie Nelson
screenplay by Michael Mann, based on the novel The Home Invaders by Frank Hohimer
directed by Michael Mann
"Look, I have run out of time. I have lost it all. So l cannot work fast enough to catch up, and l cannot run fast enough to catch up. And the only thing that catches me up is doin' my magic act. But it ends, you know? It will end. When l got this, right there, it ends, it is over. So I am just asking you...to be with me."
-Frank (James Caan), Thief (1981)
"I'm catching up. On life. Meeting someone like you."
-John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), Public Enemies (2008)
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Like the historical Dillinger, the fictional Frank was just a punk kid overzealously punished for a petty crime by a judge looking to make an example of him. Instead, he created the man Frank is as Thief begins: a master safecracker, taught his trade in the joint by fellow convict Okla (Willie Nelson, heartbreaking). As Frank recounts in a mesmerizing monologue that Caan, for what it's worth, has counted as his finest piece of screen acting, the other thing he learned in Joliet is how to create a forcefield around himself by disengaging from fear. It's not Zen detachment that he's mastered; a man of flashy tastes, he's too much the materialist to live like Heat's ascetic Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), whose Modernist house in the hills is all windows and no furniture. They are cut from the same cloth, though, in that they're acutely aware of the temporariness of their stolen lifestyles and have no qualms about jumping ship to stay ahead of the enemy.