The Thief Lord
Why is it some mothers delight in giving their children unusual names? For Prosper and Bo (Aaron Johnson and Jasper Harris) this phenomenon proves akin to a curse when the two boys find themselves on the run from their dreadful relatives.
Following the tragic death of the aforementioned parent, the brothers are split up by Aunt and Uncle Hartlieb (Carole Boyd and Bob Goody), because the middle-aged couple only cares to adopt six-year-old Bo. Unhappy with this arrangement, fifteen-year-old Prosper breaks out of the orphanage where he has been interned, kidnaps his younger sibling and then flees to Venice.
Although the canalled city was much romanticized by their Mom, the fugitives find little refuge in its damp corridors until they meet The Thief Lord (Rollo Weeks). Not much older than Prosper, the streetwise masked figure invites them to take up residence in an abandoned cinema with a group of other homeless orphans. Without any better offers, the pair joins the gang, just as the band members, who are used to stealing to meet their basic needs, decide to try their hand at something bigger.
Meanwhile, the heartless Hartliebs have hired a private detective (Jim Carter) to track down the runaways. Thanks to their unique monikers, the gumshoe is soon hot on their heels. His persistent investigation not only endangers the brothers, but also threatens to foil their heist plans and reveal a few secrets about the mysterious Thief Lord.
From beginning to end, the movie evokes a magical mood, so it's no surprise when the script stumbles into an artifact with supernatural powers. This fantasy setting also helps to dispel some of the darker realities of the juveniles' acts of crime, which include lying, robbing, hostage taking, and breaking and entering. While some of these activities result in gunshots and suspenseful moments, there is never any real sense of peril. Yet, there are no consequences for their illegal activities either. Boasting a kids-know-best attitude, adult characters are portrayed as simpletons or buffoons--especially the aunt and uncle, whose villainous reputation is never explained.
Taken at face value, the film presents an engaging adventure tale for its target audience. It also serves up lots of brotherly love and a happy ending, where some of the bad guys turn into good guys and the rest get their comeuppance. Based on a book by best-selling children's author Cornelia Funk, it may even encourage a trip to the library. However parents should note, considering the glamorization of certain activities, the title The Thief Lord is not a misnomer.