Among the new year's bonbons being unwrapped (and re-released) from Criterion is a long-awaited gem, one guaranteed to please that movie freak whose holiday gift-buying you've been putting off till the last possible moment: "Thief," Michael Mann's directorial debut and a thriller that inaugurated several careers, as well as a flair for visual style that would become the hallmark of an era. The way the climactic heist explodes in sparks and fire; the way the city lights of Chicago bleed across the hood of James Caan's car; the virtually dialogue-free scenes of jewel thievery that kick off the film -- all are harbingers of Mann's signature style: muscular visual storytelling and elegant mechanics, mixed with a deep regard for character.
The film was the first for a number of people, including Dennis Farina, William Petersen, Robert Prosky and Jim Belushi; blues great Willie Dixon, an institution in the city where Mann shot his story, shows up in what seems to be an uncredited role, fishing for mackerel in Lake Michigan (there are mackerel in Lake Michigan?). Another Willie -- Nelson -- is Frank's mentor. There’s a snippet of a performance by the Mighty Joe Young Band; a singular score by Tangerine Dream, and a visual architecture that serves as a bridge between the William Friedkin of "French Connection" and the Ridley Scott of "Blade Runner": the gritty crime saga with smear of greasy neon and a side order of twisted America Dream.
Criterion's dual-format reissue (Blu-ray/DVD) contains new interviews with Caan, Mann and Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream and audio commentary by Caan and Mann; the booklet features an essay by Sight & Sound's estimable Nick James. The restoration is in 4K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative.