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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

What do you give to the man who has everything? A plane? A horse and some land to play polo? Women? An executive job in a bank? An exquisite home? We're not on the same page: he HAS everything. What is the guy missing in life: Excitement? You got it. Flying his own aircraft, tallying goals, and scoring with women just do not do it for him. He needs to challenge the establishment. Burgling an art museum would be right on the money.

When Norman Jewison filmed the original version of "The Thomas Crown Affair" in 1968 he cast the perfect man in the title role. In his private life Steve McQueen, then 36 years old, was to accumulate 55 cars, 5 planes, and 200 motorcycles as one of the highest-paid actors of the sixties and seventies, and yet--as his first wife tells us in her book "My Husband, My Friend," he was abusive and self-destructive. McQueen came out of a miserable background and all the celebrity and money and toys didn't do it for him either. (McQueen died at the age of 50 while undergoing surgery for chest cancer in Mexico.)

"The Thomas Crown Affair," which was filmed three decades ago with a plethora of new techniques including the overuse of split-screen procedures, is such a gem that one wonders why we need a new version. Does the current rendering, which replaces McQueen with Pierre Brosnan and the 28-year-old Faye Dunaway with the 45-year-old Rene Russo justify a new entry? Hardly. The plot calls for a steamy, conflicted relationship between a burgler and the insurance agent who is tracking him down. Renee Russo is not appealing enough for the role. She's no Faye Dunaway-- and this has little to do with age, because Ms. Dunaway is again in the story albeit in a small role of psychiatrist and looks a lot better and has more pizzazz than the current star. As for Pierre Brosnan, he's strikingly handsome, but he's plastic and no match for Steve McQueen. Mel Gibson would have been the man for the role.

The plot itself is an intriguing one, a cat-and-mouse game between the friendliest of adversaries. Director John McTiernan is dealing metaphorically with two neighborly people playing a game of chess who are wary an distrustful of each other because high stakes are involved. The title character, Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) is a multimillionaire who buys and sells properties and owns the very Manhattan building in which he conducts his affairs. Though he golfs on Saturday mornings (thinking nothing of placing a $100,000 bet on a single shot), plays regularly on his yacht and flies a plane, he needs some excitement in life- -which he gets by stealing art works valued in the tens of millions. (In the 1968 version, Crown is a bank robber.) After engineering an almost inconceivable burglary of a Monet painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art--a deed that would be the envy of Peter Ustinov's character in Jules Dassin's "Topkapi"--he attracts the attention of a high- powered insurance investigator, Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), who somehow senses that Crown is the culprit.

Implausibly, Crown admits early on that he is the pirate as the two begin to date and to fall in love with each other. As Crown escorts Catherine for a spin in his plane, a sail on his boat, and even a quick weekend in his Martinique villa, Crown dares his friendly foe to catch him. Ultimately a showdown approaches. Catherine faces a conflict: will she flee (perhaps to Brazil) with this clever thief or will she betray him--turn him over with evidence to Detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary) and collect her $10 million reward from the insurance company?

Director McTiernan seems confused about the time period of the story. While "The Thomas Crown Affair" has been updated to the present from its original 1968 setting, Russo bursts on the screen not in a business suit as befits a highly placed insurance investigator but in a glamorous sixties-style attire. Though she is in motion throughout, she changes outfits with such frequency that she gives the impression she's modeling rather than pursuing a keen, albeit not dangerous, criminal. Pierce Brosnan is the biggest problem, however. He is so wooden--a trait that perhaps makes him qualified to play the cool, emotionless 007--that he challenges his audience to believe she could engender feelings in him that would have him risk everything to win her over. Steve McQueen, by contrast, displayed a more manly appearance as the original Crown while Faye Dunaway, just 28 years old at the time, put herself across as both a genuinely professional investigator and a more alluring and more conflicted co-conspirator.

The colors are lush, images hugging the wide screen that appropriately captures the joys of great wealth--the private golf course, a yacht that appears to own the sea, an island that comes across as the private domain of this one man. But will anyone believe he'd risk losing everything for a woman as bland as Catherine, or that Catherine would throw her career overboard for plastic man?

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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