What makes Izzy, the 12-year-old boy at the cent of “The Best Thief in the World,” the best thief in the world is not just that he seldom gets caught. It is also the fact that he hardly steals anything. Oh, the odd candy bar here and there, or a few dollars. But when he encounters a huge wad of money, he seems barely interested. His thievery is, for the most part, in word only.
Played by new-comer Michael Silverman, Izzy is a most interesting boy, and an intriguing character to watch in this most enlightening slice-of-life picture from Jacob Kornbluth (“Haiku Tunnel”). He’s the oldest of three children who live barely supervised in a low-rent Manhattan apartment. Their mother, Sue (Mary-Louise Parker), an English teacher on summer break, is preoccupied with caring for their father, Paul (David Warshofsky), who recently suffered a debilitating stroke.
The younger kids do well enough, but Izzy, on the cusp of adolescence, is at the age where mischief is his default setting. He spends his time climbing through fire-escape windows into neighbor apartments when the tenants are out, performing minor, mostly harmless, acts of vandalism before exiting. It is not aggression that drives him, but boredom and a desire for random rebellion.
As these kids often do, he falls in with a bad crowd, older kids whose level of juvenile delinquency far exceeds his own. Caught between wanting to fit in and his basic nature as a good kid who loves his mom, Izzy has to make some tough decisions. His choices would probably be your choices, too, if you were him.
As coming-of-age movies go, this one is far less melodramatic than most. It allows for kids to be kids, not forcing them to be miniature grownups or manipulating their experiences into something more meaningful than they are. Silverman is fantastic as Izzy, his precocious mind masked by his innocent-looking, boyish face. He’s a kid you could trust, if you didn’t know better.
Mary-Louise Parker is also wonderful as Sue, a woman overwhelmed by the burdens places upon her. She’s an underappreciated actress, in part because she doesn’t do very many films. But every time I see her, I enjoy watching her, that lazy intensity, that manner of speaking that suggests mild exasperation in everything she says.
It’s a nice film. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. Despite being rife with harsh profanity, it has a pleasant, affable feel to it. It’s a movie that wants you to like it, and is actually worth liking.
B (1 hr., 30 min.; )