"Street Thief" documents in detail the robberies of an actual thief. The suspense is greatly compounded by the mystery of whether or not the film is a docu or fiction. The action is so compellingly, however, that "Thief" works either way. Distribution seems assured, but the level depends on how well pic's ambiguity is exploited.

In the tradition of “The Blair Witch Project,” first-time helmers Malik Bader and Miles Harrison’s “Street Thief” purports to document in detail the robberies of an actual thief, from the early planning stages through stakeout to break-in, theft and getaway. The suspense is greatly compounded by the mystery of whether or not the film is an actual documentary or a fictional feature. The action is so compellingly shot and the central personage so fascinating, however, that “Thief” works either way. Distribution seems assured, but the level depends on how well the pic’s ambiguity is exploited.

A robbery-in-progress at a Latino supermarket is shown from two angles: One camera is inside the thief’s van and the other stationed on a nearby roof. From the very first, the artful placement of cameras and the suspenseful intercutting between long-shot and close-up, as well as the thoughtful jump cuts, sudden angle-changes and sophisticated montages belie the idea of an on-the-fly documentary.

Yet once the viewer is exposed to the thief, who identifies himself as “Kaspar Carr,” disbelief is suspended anew. Opinionated, professional, self-assured and a tad frightening, Carr takes control of the film almost from the outset. He lays out the film’s agenda, explaining in lively detail exactly what he is doing and why.

Puffing away on cigarettes, with a five-o’clock shadow that starts at noon, his nervous energy seems at one with the camera’s. He obviously loves virtually every aspect of his job as a thief, finding satisfaction in the details of the process.

He is also a consummate actor, assuming a convincing Indian accent to check out information, and conducting a colorful conversation in Spanish on a pay phone before slipping into an office for a gander at a safe.

Kaspar’s need for recognition and his determination to be the star of his own movie seemingly answer the real stumbling block to the picture’s credibility: It is flat-out egomania that has driven the thief to furnish absolute proof of his own criminal acts.

Carr’s scarcely-masked contempt for the filmmakers and sudden bursts of anger or paranoia completely take over the emotional thrust of the film. When he mysteriously disappears toward the end, he thoroughly saps the narrative’s energy, leaving the poor documentarians futzing around more or less aimlessly and the police comically clueless.

Ultimately, as with “Blair Witch,” knowledge of artifice, in this case that the film’s rather scary protagonist is in fact its director, Malik Bader (in a brilliant, tour-de-force impersonation), actually enhances the effectiveness of the film. Tech credits are excellent, particularly Steven Van Deven’s wonderfully inventive soundtrack.

Street Thief

Production

A True Grit Prods. presentation of a Bader Brothers Films production. Produced by Sam Bader, Derrick Grahn. Directed by Malik Bader. Co-director, Miles Harrison.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16mm-to-HD), Ken Seng; editor, Nadav Kurtz; music, Phirefones; sound, Steven Van Deven. Reviewed on DVD, New York, April 12, 2006. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 84 MIN.
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