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The Independent Critic

Maz Siam, Muneer Katchi, Yousif Alshekh, Ayman Samman, Sana Etoile, Mohamad Tamimi
Julian Higgins
Julian Higgins, Matthew Wieland
25 Mins.

 "Thief" Review 
What does it mean to really make peace with the past?

Is it as simple as righting wrong? What does it even mean to "right" a wrong? Does it mean an "eye for an eye?" Will revenge create peace?

It is these questions and more that are at the heart of Thief, a thought-provoking and deeply moving 25-minute short film that recently captured the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film at the 2011 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Co-written and directed by Julian Higgins as his MFA Thesis Film at the American Film Institute, Thief has already captured multitude of major prizes including a Gold Medal in the Student Academy Awards, 1st Place Drama and Best Director in the 32nd College Television Awards and prizes at Big Island Film Festival, Ivy Film Festival, CineGear, Angelus Student Film Festival, Traverse City Film Festival, HollyShorts, Dances With Films and a host of others.

In other words, this is one incredible film.

Think about it. Who has wronged you in your life?

Do you have someone clearly in mind?

What has it taken for you to move on in your life? Have you moved on in your life? Do you still foster resentment? What would you do if you standing face-to-face right now with someone who had destroyed your life?

Thief takes place in Iraq in December, 2003. Struggling to survive in the days after the American invasion, Mehdi lives in an isolated home in the hills outside Tikrit. One morning, a grizzled stranger arrives at his home with an AK-47 in one hand and the other hand open searching for food. After a brief conversation, Mehdi begins to realize that this man is no stranger but, in fact, a man he encountered forty years earlier under incredibly different circumstances. Will Mehdi seek to right a wrong that forever changed his life? Or will he find a way to make peace with his past?

Inspired by a true incident, Thief succeeds where so many films centered around the subject of Iraq have failed because Higgins chooses to make the film an extremely intimate film with global implications. While most filmmakers dealing with Iraq have felt it necessary to address politics, oil and/or foreign policy, Higgins takes us poignantly inside the lives of two people whose lives were changed by both past and present day Iraq.

The film was shot in Acton, California in a desert area that bears a passing resemblance to an Iraqi desert region. To add further authenticity to the film, Higgins films Thief in Arabic (with subtitles) utilizing Iraqi actors from L.A.'s Iraqi exile community. The resulting film feels both richly authentic and even more deeply moving.

The main character of Mehdi is played as a child by Yousif Alshekh and as an adult by Maz Siam. Both performers are remarkable, Alshekh serving up an inquisitive and youthful presence initially with a final scene as a youth that is simply heartbreaking as he learns, in essence, that doing the "right thing" does not always lead to a just reward. Maz Siam is similarly powerful as the elder Mehdi, a man who clearly lives a life tainted by the events of his past. Siam's performance is patient and thoughtful, yet his eyes communicate deeply as his conversation with this man from his past grows more emotionally intense.

As the man who suddenly re-enters Mehdi's life, Muneer Katchi is an imposing presence who exudes the sort of bravado that we'd expect from a man who was struggling to hold onto the world that he had long ago created.

D.P. Andrew Wheeler's lensing is exceptional, his pristine imagery early on giving way to the gray skies of an increasingly war-torn country in the film's latter half. David Stal's original music serves as a gentle companion for the film, capturing both the intimacy and the starkness of the story that's unfolding.

For more information on Thief, visit the film's website listed above!

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic