MGM // 1999 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 14th, 2010
How do you get the man who has everything?
"Here's to the fear of being trapped."
Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan, Die Another Day) is a fabulously wealthy businessman living in New York City. He's got pretty much everything any man could possibly want in life, except...well, he's a little bored. He's conquered just about everything he was interested in conquering in the business world, so he sets his sights on something a little more complicated: art theft. He steals a famous Monet valued at over 100 million from a nearby museum, then sits back and watches as local law enforcement scrambles to find out who was responsible for the crime. Just when it looks like Thomas has gotten away with the perfect crime, a new player enters the picture.
Her name is Catherine Banning, and she works for the insurance company responsible for covering the cost of the stolen painting. The company is in no hurry to shell out 100 million, so Catherine is hired to do an investigation of her own. She proves to be a savvy and smart woman with a lot of good instincts, which impresses both the lead investigator (Denis Leary, Rescue Me) and Thomas himself. As the investigation continues, Catherine and Thomas begin an unlikely, surprisingly passionate relationship, but is their romance for real or are they secretly playing each other?
I have to make a confession that's probably going to cause at least a few of you to stop reading this review right now: I'm not completely enamored with the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair. Sure, it's kind of a fun movie, boasting a cool Steve McQueen performance, slick cinematography and an incredibly sexy Michael Legrand score. Even so, the whole thing was a pretty insubstantial affair that employed flashy-but-aimless split-screen techniques and never really managed to amount to more than the sum of its parts. It's a memorable film that allowed viewers to enjoy McQueen doing his thing at the height of his star power, but by no means a truly great film.
Similarly, the 1999 remake is a pleasant trifle, loaded with superficial pleasures and not too much substance. I don't think of it as particularly better or worse than the original, just a different take for a different time. Norman Jewison's version is very much a product of its time, and so is John McTiernan's. Even so, the films tend to have different strengths and weaknesses. Whereas the original sort of ran out of steam after the initial heist sequence, this version springs to life once the romantic elements enter the picture. This is partially due to the fact that the first-act heist is largely staged in a rather mundane manner by McTiernan (a disappointment considering that this is the man who gave us Die Hard), but also due to the fact that the presence of Russo works wonders for the movie.
Granted, the character Russo is playing initially comes across as a rather silly one. She stomps onto a crime scene in a slinky outfit, and the camera introduces us to her by gazing at her legs for a while. One almost expects her to look into the camera and snap, "Hey, my face is up here." Her brassy theatrics combined with her rather brazen sexuality initially seems just so terribly unlikely for an insurance investigator, but Russo keeps hitting her notes with such conviction that we eventually just have to give in and accept them. Credible or no, at the very least we have a character who is distinct and interesting, a reminder of why Russo was such a fine lead actress in her day (odd to speak of her in the past tense, but as of the writing of this review she hasn't appeared in a film since 2005's Yours, Mine and Ours).
Meanwhile, Brosnan proves a good fit for the role of Thomas Crown, offering some of the same casual cool that McQueen brought to the original part. Brosnan smartly accomplishes more with less, using half-grins and raised eyebrows to maximum effect. It's fun to watch his cool demeanor slip away a bit during his scenes with Russo, whose endless passion seems to inspire him. They share a love scene that offers considerably more than the usual kiss-and-fade business, as we follow their middle-aged gymnastics from one room to another. After a while, they're both drenched in sweat and looking like they could use a nap. "Oh, we're not done yet," growls Russo, and off they go again. Seductive chess games are traded for raw, unbridled sexuality, which works in this instance because it seems to throw Thomas out of his comfort zone (one senses a sexy chess game would be something he would rather excel at).
The film receives a very respectable transfer, offering an image that's occasionally a tad soft but otherwise quite solid. Some key sequences in the film take place in dark shadows, and thankfully these benefit from great depth and shading. Detail is strong throughout, particularly benefiting the lavish museum setting. Flesh tones are reasonably accurate, despite a couple of moments that seem to lack warmth. The audio is strong, with Bill Conti's sprightly score (not a match for Legrand's, but a good effort nonetheless) coming through with a lot of strength. The track is well-distributed, and the dialogue, music and sound design are well-balanced. There are no extras included on the disc, but you do get a DVD copy of the film (one of those old flipper discs containing a full frame and widescreen version of the film) that contains an audio commentary with McTiernan.
The basic plot structure of the film is pretty ho-hum, even if Crown's final move is pulled off in a clever and entertaining manner. Supporting characters tend to be pretty underwritten...Denis Leary isn't given enough to do in his role, while the likes of Ben Gazzara and Frankie Faison are onscreen so little that they barely register. The casting of Faye Dunaway as Thomas Crown's therapist is a nice nod to the original, but the character is both completely unnecessary and badly written (what sort of demented therapist laughs mockingly at her patient's personal problems?). Finally, Sting's cover of "The Windmills of Your Mind" is the very definition of lackluster.
The Thomas Crown Affair isn't great cinema, but it's a rather pleasurable way to spend 113 minutes and offers fine performances from its two leads. Here's hoping the forthcoming sequel manages to be as entertaining.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* DVD Copy