The A.V. Club

By Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
Michael Mann’s Thief is one of the most confident directorial debuts of its era, the product of an unprecedented amount of research and preparation.
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The Dissolve

By Scott Tobias
Debut features are rarely this confident and accomplished, much less such a perfect blueprint of what to expect from a filmmaker down the line.
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By David Ansen
Brutal and precision-made, Thief is a high-tech crime movie that closes in on its subject with such relentless purpose that it approaches abstraction. Nothing enters Mann's frame that is not designed to be there: the expertise he honors in his criminal hero is mirrored by his own meticulous craftsmanship. He gets the job done--and blows you away while doing it. [30 Mar 1981, p.82]
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Chicago Sun-Times

By Roger Ebert
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.
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Although there are points where he gets bogged down in the technical aspects of thievery, the film is a slick Chicago crime-drama with a well-developed sense of pathos running throughout.
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The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

By Jay Scott
Realism by nature offends the dogmatic, and Michael Mann, in a writing-directing debut that makes one want to see his next movie instantly, is a devotee of the realistic in factual essentials, if not in esthetics. [27 Mar 1981]
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Washington Post

It's the most exaggerated example yet of the abiding imbalance in modernist filmmaking, where an abundance of texture fails to conceal a minimum of substance, although it frequently makes the act of concealment pictorially exciting. [27 Mar 1981, p.C1]
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The New York Times

By Vincent Canby
Mr. Mann may well become a very good theatrical film maker but, among other things, he's going to have to learn how to edit himself, to resist the temptation to allow dialogue that is colorful to turn, all of a sudden, into deep, abiding purple. Time after time scenes start off well and slip into unintentionally comic excess.
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78 out of 100
Generally favorable reviews
Metascore® based on all critic reviews. Scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.