Hey, remember when Andre Braugher led a team of thieves on a six-episode midair heist and Anne from Arrested Development was his daughter? No? You really should.
For six weeks in 20051, FX put an interesting lil’ drift of a story in front of what wound up being a small number of viewers. Thief tracked the members of a crew of (surprise!) thieves as they tried to pull off a daring heist, dealing with cops, criminals, and families at the same time. It was an old saw, but one played very well – starting with the guy at the top of the credits.
Andre Braugher would win an Emmy for his performance as the team’s leader Nick Atwater, and the Emmys definitely got it right this go ’round. Braugher’s Atwater is a skilled study in restraint, a multi-faceted character built of layers, not tropes, that never feel out of place when introduced. This was a character a bit unique to Braugher’s body of work2 – definitely not a good guy, violence lurking under the surface, but still a professional, a leader, and a man who was frank with the few emotions he seemed to have.
Elsewhere a strong cast included Clifton Collins Jr. as a member of the crew trying to balance his work with the love of a pretty churchgoer; Michael Rooker as a corrupt-ish cop; and a number of one- or two-episode guest appearances that knocked it out of the park. (In particular I’m thinking of Linda Hamilton as one of Nick’s contacts.) Some performances from the ensemble were weaker than others, of course, but nothing can really get in the way of a Clever Heist plotted over just six episodes.
Thief benefited massively from it’s short run – roughly two (long) feature films in length, the mini-series spends the proper amount of time with both its plot and characters. Occasional slow spots are quickly forgotten, and side plots add to rather than distract from the main narrative.3 Reportedly considered for either a longer run or multiple short seasons, low ratings capped the series at the one arc it got to tell.
It did tell it well, even if it didn’t fit cleanly into any crime genre. It has southern stylings, but it’s not dark enough – or even macho enough – to be ‘true’ noir, not flashy or fast enough to be a pure heist, and thankfully not bogged down in the relationships so much as to become a soap.
It’s the story of a man, and a thief, sometimes the same person. Well worth the few hours’ visit.
The whole six-episode run of Thief is currently available any time on Hulu.
- A year that also saw Weeds and the new Battlestar hit the airwaves ↵
- ‘Tho there are certainly notes of Frank Pembleton, Braugher’s star turn from Homicide: Life on the Streets, here and there in the delivery. ↵
- The Chinese mob angle, seeking payback from the crew for stealing from them early on, does feel very of its time. Thankfully it steers clear of too many cliches. ↵