Sania was six in 1952. His memories of Russia in the years after WWII are dominated by his mother's fleeting relationship with a soldier, Tolian - the only father the boy ever knew. They meet on a train, disembark as a family, and take a room in a boarding house. The landlady accepts Tolian's uniform as sufficient character reference, and though Sania is resentful at being displaced in mama's affections, they settle down reasonably happily. And Tolian teaches his new charge about being a man: intimidation, fear and theft. When Tolian confides to the boy that he's Stalin's son, we see it's another con - but, metaphorically speaking, that's exactly who he is. Chukhrai's previous film was The Hawk, a documentary about the Russian nationalist Zhirinovsky, and The Thief is apparently intended as some kind of prequel, a film about the sons of the sons of Stalin. The pained love-hate relationship between Tolian and Sania gives the film welcome emotional grit, and Mashkov brings the requisite dash of cavalier charm to the brutal surrogate father. The least that can be said is that this is a moving, decent and worthy film. Even so, it's also deeply conventional.