MGM // 1999 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // January 14th, 2000
When you raise the stakes, you heighten the attraction.
A high stakes, high risk caper flick with wit, style, and steamy romance, The Thomas Crown Affair is all-around entertainment for men and women alike.
Whenever a movie is a remake, the inevitable comparisons with its ancestor are legion in number. The critical lens is often focused on the question of how good a remake it is, often in my view being overly preoccupied with the question. The true question for a reviewer should not be how good a remake it is, but how good of a movie is it, on its own merits? In a sense, I am happy not to have seen the Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway 1968 version so that I can properly judge the modern version without any comparative bias.
The opening credits, interspersed with clips of Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) discussing his feelings toward women with his psychiatrist (Faye Dunaway), leads into a day in the life of Thomas Crown. A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit a favorite Van Gogh (named "La Meridienne") and some crafty business dealings make up his day, while at the same time a newly delivered crate sitting in the dark dungeons of the Museum disgorges a team of apprentice art thieves. They set to work, and were it not for always vigilant Proctor McKinley (Michael Lombard), they might have met success. Alarms sound, the Museum dissolves into chaos, the prospective pilferers land in the arms of the law in short order, and Thomas Crown strikes. Speed, misdirection, and audacity work wonders, leaving Thomas Crown to casually stroll out of the museum with a Monet (named "Il Crepuscolo") in hand.
The NYPD is soon called in, led by ill-tempered Det. Michael McCann (Denis Leary) and his bemused partner Det. Paretti (Frankie Faison). Just as they are getting a handle on the theft, insurance investigator Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) makes a fashionable and audacious entrance of her own. She represents some Swiss gentlemen who would rather not write a claim check for $100,000,000 and is determined to find the thief. A little detective work and she is already sniffing around Thomas Crown, scenting her prey by instinct. At a high-class Museum party, she boldly informs Crown of her intentions, earning her his decided interest and a dinner invitation. Poor Det. McCann is rebuffed in humiliatingly rapid fashion when he attempts to serve a search warrant on Crown's residence, only to be further aggrieved when Catherine accepts Crown's invitation.
The sparks fly at dinner fast and furious as the screen begins to smolder, avoiding flame when Crown and Banning say their goodbyes and head home. Having deftly made copies of Crown's house keys during their date, Catherine and her burglary team pay a house call on Crown when he is at work, coming away with a painting...of sorts. Infuriated by Crown's having pulled one over on her, Catherine shows up at an even fancier party wearing a breathtaking Halston dress. Their dirty dancing tango on the dance floor soon leads to a very adult, very revealing lovemaking sequence. Catherine professes to Det. McCann that she is getting in close merely for business' sake, but as Crown continues to woo her with glider rides and tropical getaways, her protestations become less confident as she falls for him despite her best intentions.
"How do porcupines mate?" Crown asks his psychiatrist. "Old joke," she says, "very carefully!" Crown muses..."...or not at all..." Now both Crown and Banning are emotionally entangled even as Banning's forces close in and Crown seeks to elude their grasp. The endgame is a close run affair as Crown and Banning dance around their roles and emotions, seeking an impossible resolution to enable them to live happily ever after. I dare not spoil any further, but the final caper with an army of men in bowler hats is delightful, as much for Crown's cleverness as for Banning's astonished glee at the bold maneuvering.
After seeing The Thomas Crown Affair a few times, I thought about what made me into such a fan of this movie. In a word, it is fun, but in a very intelligent and adult fashion. Not only are the heist sequences fresh and snappy, but they rely as much on the intelligence of their participants as they do on pure style. The cat and mouse romantic game between Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) and Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) adds a whole layer of delicious tension throughout the movie. We see a deeply wary but increasingly passionate and entangled mature couple celebrating the joy of life as they struggle against the obstacles to happiness. In both the caper and romantic aspects of the film, the audience will be kept guessing, wondering how Thomas Crown will extricate himself from his predicament as well as whether or not the romance will persist or collapse under the weight of reality.
Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye, Dante's Peak, Mars Attacks!) gets a lot of undeserved flak for being emotionally distant and stiff in his acting, but anyone who makes that claim here simply isn't playing attention. While it is true that Thomas Crown is by design very cool and self-assured, his mask slips (despite himself) to reveal unabashed joy (notably during the ultra-sensual dance scene), confused insecurity (in the later therapy sessions), and desperate longing (as he tries to figure out how to lose the Monet and keep his relationship with Catherine). Perhaps Pierce Brosnan gets slammed in these politically correct times for not playing characters who get weepy in a crunch?
Rene Russo, well, having already been a great fan of her work (notably In the Line of Fire, Outbreak, and Lethal Weapon 3), I'm probably a Rene Russo zealot now. In those movies and in The Thomas Crown Affair, I have been in awe of her ability to stand toe-to-toe with her male counterparts (including Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, and Mel Gibson) in both acting and action without sacrificing her feminine qualities. She can play with the boys, but she's every inch the woman. Here, she is having as much fun as Pierce Brosnan as she makes us believe that Catherine Banning, with perplexed exasperation, finds herself falling as hard for Thomas Crown as he does for her.
The supporting cast has its own share of small gems. Denis Leary keeps his abrasive, sarcastically funny shtick toned down so that we can laugh at him while empathizing with him. Frankie Faison (best known as Hannibal Lecter's caretaker in Silence of the Lambs), as the smiling sidekick who seems bemused by the whole affair, adds a touch of pleasing gravity. Finally, Faye Dunaway (Bonnie And Clyde, Chinatown) has a ball puncturing the detached arrogance of Thomas Crown and giving us small glimpses into the mind behind the man.
Oddly enough, I also must credit Bill Conti's music with enhancing the playful fun on-screen. His résumé is quite lengthy, including both low-brow cinema, television shows, and more substantial films, but including a number of films where his musical talents added substantial value (such as The Right Stuff and F/X.)
The anamorphic video transfer is simply gorgeous. The picture is crisp and perfectly clean, with neither defects nor dirt. Sharpness is excellent, as are the color saturation, flesh tones, solid blacks and shadow detail. Only a slight touch of digital enhancement aliasing and a few spots of noticeable video noise detract from the visual presentation.
The sound is a pleasing mix, energetic but without thunderous ambitions. Dialogue is clear and well presented. Sound effects and music are clearly located and pan smoothly across the front, with the rear surrounds providing ambient support and the occasional back-to-front (or the reverse) movement. This is a generally good front-centered soundstage, albeit with capable rear support, so you should not mind too much. Your subwoofer will be only lightly used to support the action and music, but without big car chases and explosions, what did you expect?
The modest package of extras is decent. The feature-length commentary by director John McTiernan (Hunt for Red October, Die Hard, Die Hard: With a Vengeance) capably imparts insights about the production. I give extra credit to John McTiernan for not feeling compelled to fill every last second of silence with chatter (which usually makes a commentary track become tedious and boring). The other on-disc extra are the trailers for both the 1968 and the 1999 versions of The Thomas Crown Affair, which nicely highlight the differences (and similarities) of both films. The included multi-page color insert is slick and fairly packed with high-quality production notes.
Worthy of note is the nifty main menu, which rivals the excellent work of 1K Studios or Sharpline Arts. It is an animated art museum motif, with movie themed sound and music. Most impressive is that the menu turns from wall to wall of the "museum," with static movie pictures (made to look like paintings) morph into movie clips. Very nice.
The Alpha keep case. Yeccch!
The extras are a bit light, the ending of the story requires a well-defined suspension of disbelief, and as other critics have noted the product placement can be a bit obvious. Minor criticisms in the overall scheme of things, and they should not dissuade you from any enjoyment.
Now, if you will permit me one Ohio-related nitpick: Excuse me, Mister Brosnan, Lima, Ohio is pronounced Lie-mah, not Lee-mah. There. I feel better now.
It's adventure and excitement with a strong dose of adult romance, quite refreshing in these American Pie times. You ought to do yourself the favor of at least a rental, though for the price ($25 retail) and quality, you can't go wrong either way.
I don't think Thomas Crown or the disc will be indicted, do you? No, I didn't think so!
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Theatrical Trailers
* Official Site