The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
  • Time: 113 min
  • Genre: Crime | Romance | Thriller
  • Director: John McTiernan
  • Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary


Self-made billionaire Thomas Crown is bored of being able to buy everything he desires. Being irresistible to women, he also does not feel any challenge in that area. But there are a few things even he can’t get, therefore Thomas Crown has a seldom hobby: He steals priceless masterpieces of Art. After the theft of a famous painting from Claude Monet, the only person suspecting Thomas Crown is Catherine Banning. Her job is to get the picture back, no matter how she accomplishes her mission. Unfortunately, Catherine gets involved too deeply with Thomas to keep a professional distance to the case. Fortunately, Thomas seems to fall for her, too.

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  • “A woman could trust me,” muses billionaire Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan), “as long as her interests don’t run contrary to my own.” You know it won’t be too long before this self-involved loner will meet his match in The Thomas Crown Affair, an engaging and sleek piece of work that manages to overcome several disadvantages — the most choice being that it is a remake of the Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway romantic caper as well as reminiscent of this year’s star-powered but lifeless Entrapment.

    Crown has all the advantages that being a bachelor billionaire can afford — women, cars, an upscale hut in the Caribbean — but there’s something missing. So, to alleviate his boredom, he pulls off a heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And pulls it off brilliantly — his decoys are arrested, he’s barely suspected and he has his Monet. Then along comes a certain Miss Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), the insurance investigator who enters the scene. Her sophistication and confidence unnerve Detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary), who has no clue how to handle this Midwesterner-turned-European.

    When she meets up with Crown, she senses that he may be the mastermind behind the heist and dares to tell him so. He, in turn, is piqued by her and invites her to dinner where they flirt while swapping stories about their adventurous lives and loves. They’re two of a kind, both determinedly single and unable to sustain relationships. “Men make women messy,” Catherine says. “Here is to the fear of being trapped,” he toasts.

    So their cat-and-mouse game continues. She’s determined to catch her man. He’s determined to remain uncaught. And when that stranger called love enters the picture, both struggle to maintain their initial motivations. “The man likes the high-wire,” Catherine notes to McCann. “I’m going to play with him a while.” Be careful he doesn’t play with you, counters McCann.

    Thematically, director John McTiernan and screenwriters Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer have placed more emphasis on the mating dance done by two strongly defined individuals. It helps enormously that the two stars are of the same age unlike Entrapment’s Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones. No matter how hard Zeta-Jones tried, she never made you feel as if she was his equal. The dapper Brosnan and the Celine-outfitted Russo, meanwhile, indeed make for worthy adversaries.

    However, having the romance outweigh the intrigue does not necessarily make for a better picture. Director Norman Jewison doled out the intrigue and romance in near equal measure in the original. One fed the other and made the seduction all the more erotic. Jewison also had the sense to end the romance on a bittersweet note; McTiernan does not follow his lead.

    Neither does McTiernan adapt the stylistics Jewison employed, most notably the multi-framed split screen narrative, an exhilaratingly clever device to depict multiple actions taking place. This is not a criticism on McTiernan — after all, wasn’t Gus Van Sant excoriated for remaking Psycho frame for frame? McTiernan wants this version to stand apart from its source and it does to a certain degree. But this version’s romance could have benefited from possessing more of the original’s undercurrent of the never-to-be. McTiernan gets it right in one scene — ironically, the one accompanied by a new arrangement of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” the original’s Oscar-winning theme. Crown and Catherine are walking the city streets, falling further into intimacy, and the sequence ends with them frozen in time, as on a photograph.

    Despite Brosnan’s charisma, he cannot disengage the memory of Steve McQueen. Of the two, Brosnan is the more likely Crown but it was precisely McQueen’s unlikeliness that made for perfect casting. It was that rebel cool that added to the allure of the millionaire bored enough to pull off bank heists for fun. And the sparks he set off with the criminally beautiful Faye Dunaway, who sashayed through the film in Thea Van Runkle’s inspired designs! Dunaway cameos in the remake as Crown’s therapist. Her presence here, one supposes, is to symbolize her blessing. The film doesn’t need it. It may not fully surpass the original but it’ll do nicely, thank you.

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