The Thomas Crown Affair
Screenplay : Peter Doyle and Leslie Dixon & Kurt Wimmer (based on the 1968 by Alan R. Trustman)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : : Pierce Brosnan (Thomas Crown), Rene Russo (Catherine Banning), Denis Leary (Michael McCann)
It's funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Take John McTiernan's remake of Norman Jewison's 1968 sexy crime thriller "The Thomas Crown Affair." When the original came out, film critic Pauline Kael described it as being like "lying in the sun flicking through fashion magazines and (as used to be said) feeling rich and beautiful beyond your wildest dreams." In 1999, the stars are different, the plot has been modified, and the setting has changed from Boston to New York, but that fundamental essence of style controlling the movie still holds true.
Although the real subjects are sex and high-price fashion, the movie is ostensibly about the title character, Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan), an inordinately wealthy and powerful businessman who, out of boredom, turns to a life of crime. His crime is quite fitting to his station in life: He orchestrates a daring heist the involves snatching a $100-million Monet painting out of a New York museum in broad daylight while the museum is filled with patrons and guards. It's a gutsy, audacious move that is never about the money. Crown doesn't need dollars; he needs excitement. He needs a new challenge.
However, a new and altogether unexpected challenge arrives in the form of Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), an insurance investigator/bounty hunter who represents the "Swiss gentlemen" who have monetary interest in the stolen painting. Being an old pro, Catherine immediately zooms in on Crown as the culprit, and proceeds to work her way into his life so she can get the painting back. This is much to the chagrin of Michael McCann (Denis Leary), the police investigator who tries to pursue the case according to rules and procedures. Catherine's idea of a legal search is swiping Crown's house keys while they're on a date, and having copies made so she can break in the next day.
Once the logistics of the crime and its investigation are set up, the movie turns into a steamy romance between Crown and Catherine. She knows he did it. He knows she knows he did it. Yet, they engage in a game of cat-and-mouse, toying with each other's affections while pursuing other goals. The trick is, of course, that they really do fall in love with each other, but it's almost impossible for them to prove that they are actually in love, and not just playing the game to win.
Like the 1968 original, "The Thomas Crown Affair" is really an exercise in sexual chemistry and fashion. While Brosnan and Russo are both extremely attractive and capable actors, they still do not generate quite the same screen heat as Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway did in the original. Director John McTiernan ("Die Hard") does everything he can to turn Brosnan and Russo into larger-than-life sex symbols (which isn't much of a task), and this includes a sultry Latin dance number with Russo in a see-through dress and a lovemaking session that takes them from the floor to the stairs to the top of Crown's desk.
In terms of fashion, whenever the actors aren't naked, they're decked out in only the most expensive, high-fashion apparel. Costume designed Kate Harrington, who used to work as a photo and fashion editor at "Vanity Fair," makes sure that Brosnan and Russo look like they just walked out of a magazine spread.
Unfortunately, "The Thomas Crown Affair" is fun to watch without being particularly memorable or distinguished. Everything about the production is top-notch, and you can sense what the filmmakers are trying to get at, yet they never quite get there. Perhaps Brosnan is a little too stiff in a complicated role that demands a wide range of emotion, from cool resilience to emotional pleading; perhaps it is because McTiernan is better at staging vast action sequences than intimate moments. Whatever it is, "The Thomas Crown Affair" is good, but it's not an affair to remember.
©1999 James Kendrick