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The Thomas Crown Affair

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Thomas Crown Affair

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo
Director: John McTiernan
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genres: Action, Thriller

*Also starring: Dennis Leary, Faye Dunaway

Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

The original version of _The_Thomas_Crown_Affair_, released in 1968, is an ideal project to be remade. The sleek Norman Jewison-directed, Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway-starring caper is an entertaining film, but certainly not a great one, leaving a sizable margin for improvement. The 1999 version, directed by John McTiernan and starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, isn't that much better a film than its predecessor, for its inspired updates simply make it an enjoyable romantic romp in its own right.

The most dramatic alteration is the central act of theft pulled off by bored billionaire Thomas Crown (Brosnan) is an art heist, not a bank robbery, and the film is better for it. An art museum proves to be a vastly more interesting setting than a bank, leaving a lot more room for creativity in the caper scene. (Jewison obviously strained to keep things visually interesting in his film, employing a busy split-screen technique that appears terribly dated through contemporary eyes.) After pulling off a clever and oh-so-slick scheme, Thomas comes away from the museum with a Monet valued at $100 million--and with chic insurance investigator Catherine Banning (Russo) hot on his tail.

And when I say "hot," I mean hot: Catherine may indeed be interested in recovering that painting, but she's much more interested in Thomas himself, whose suave, carefree ways arouse--and, in many ways, mirror--her. The dangerous affair they eventually fall into makes for the heart of both this and the 1968 film, and it is in this area that the newer film makes a stronger case. Despite the palpable electricity between McQueen and Dunaway, the original's romance felt rushed and therefore somewhat forced; here, screenwriter Leslie Dixon (who shares screenplay credit with Kurt Wimmer, who, in a unique arrangement, handled only the action scenes) fleshes out the love story, showing how their basic desire develops into real affection.

That said, the updated romance _does_ have more than its share of sizzle--and how could it not when it pairs two of the most attractive magnetic stars (and both north of 40, no less) in film today? Brosnan's presence may seem cool to the point of freezing for some, but that's the key to his allure--his debonair detachment, which is a strong fit for Thomas. The stunning Russo, however, is all fire. A veteran of adventure films, Russo has finally found a role that enables her to blend her popular brand of vulnerable machisma with a strong dose of natural feminine wiles, and she obviously relishes the chance to vamp it up.

This is no clearer than in the centerpiece seduction scene, where Thomas and Catherine's attraction erupts to a boil during a torrid dance. (In a nice touch, the song they dance to is an uptempo rendition of the original film's Oscar-winning theme song, "The Windmills of Your Mind"--which also recurs as the couple's instrumental love theme.) The scene smolders--and how could it not, especially with Russo shimmying in a slinky see-through dress?--but it doesn't hold a candle to its classic counterpart in the original film, where Thomas and Catherine engage in the steamiest chess game ever committed to film. While the new scene is all about sex--and how--what's missing is the added dimension of intellectual seduction that took place as the two ever-so-erotically matched wits on the chess board.

McTiernan, of course, has made his name as a crack action director (anyone _not_ remember _Die_Hard_?), so naturally this remake features a more elaborate action climax. What is surprising, though, is that the complexity comes not in the amount of pyrotechnics--there aren't any--but in the imagination and smarts behind it. I won't give anything away, but the clever machinations are more exciting than any big explosion could ever be.

_The_Thomas_Crown_Affair_ may be a bit too laid-back and older-skewing to be a blockbuster hit, but it gives the summer something it has been sorely lacking: a strong sense of class, which is more than welcome in this season of crass.

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