Frank (James Caan) has pulled off a string of very successful thefts of diamonds and dollars since he was released from Joliet State Penitentiary. He's got a piece of the action in several establishments, including a bar and a used car lot. Recently divorced, Frank falls in love with Jessie (Tuesday Weld), a lady with an unsavory past. While proposing to her, he brings out a postcard collage of his life.
Leo (Robert Prosky), head of an organized crime ring, wants to take advantage of Frank's talents. He offers him all the manpower and technology he needs if he'll join up. Using monies from a recent score, Frank arranges for his mentor (Willie Nelson) to be released from prison so that he can die outside an institution. The thief becomes beholden to Leo when he accepts a child from him after an agency refuses to allow him and Jessie to adopt on account of his prison record.
Thief is a very stylized movie, effectively directed by Michael Mann (who wrote and directed the TV movie "The Jericho Mile"). Don Thorin's cinematography makes the most of the Chicago milieu, and the electronic music score by Tangerine Dream conveys ample tension.
Once of the movie's most exciting scenes is the complicated robbery of $4 million from a Los Angeles jewelry company. Assisted by Barry's (James Belushi) knowledge of electronics and Grossman's (Nathan Davies) thermal lance, Frank moves half-way toward fulfilling his dream of quitting.