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The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

The original THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR is not one of my favorite Steve McQueen pictures. It’s stylish and well-made, I can see the appeal of it. But first of all, as much fun as he may have had doing it, McQueen was not meant to play that kind of upper crust character. And secondly, as cool as you want him to be because he’s played by Steve McQueen, Thomas Crown is not a very cool character. He’s The Man. A rich guy who has other people do his work and then takes credit for it. Just because he picks up the money out of the garbage can after all the real work is done he gets to call it his Affair? There’s no justice in that movie.

John McTiernan’s loose remake takes care of those problems, while introducing other ones. While I’m much more fond of Steve McQueen, Pierce Brosnan is a way better choice to play this character. He’s smooth, he’s handsome, he looks kind of like Fred MacMurray but more girly, he has an accent. And there’s no way to imagine him working with his hands or having dirt on him or his hair unkempt. He IS Thomas Crown.

The Thomas Crown AffairAnd in this version Crown is more than just the mastermind, he also does the stealing himself. In this one he’s an art thief, and the art he steals is his own, almost. He owns a museum, but his company has been forced into a merger. On the very day he signs the contract a team of European mercenaries busts in to steal Crown’s favorite Monet from the gallery. But we soon realize that the mercenaries have been anonymously hired by Crown himself. He doublecrosses them, gets the painting himself and leaves them to take the blame.

And then the story itself is like the original: Renee Russo is an insurance investigator who quickly figures out that Crown did it and tries to prove it. Meanwhile they are courting each other, toying with each other, possibly in love and not sure where their or each other’s loyalties lie. A cat and mouse game, if the cat and mouse were fucking each other in about ten different positions and pouring liquor on each other and shit.

One problem I had is that Renee Russo is really annoying. Yes, it’s nice to see a female sex symbol out of her twenties, and offering the brief nudity and what not. I’m all for that. But her whole soda-swilling eccentric intense intimidating woman of power shtick is obnoxious. She’s just not cool. I bet Thomas Crown could find somebody more appealing to fly around to different islands with.

By the way, Faye Dunaway (love interest in the original) plays Crown’s therapist.

Another problem is the music. Whatsisdick of ROCKY fame did the score and it starts out real classy, with piano tinkering and a nice use of Nina Simone music. Then when the robbery starts it turns into a DTV Wesley Snipes vehicle or something, cheesy drum machines and guitars that are supposed to sound cool but for crying out loud NOBODY on earth thinks that type of music is cool. Nobody! Not children, not animals, nobody. Stop it, composers. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t make me play it back to you. Because I will do it.

I also missed the team element of the original. Sure, I complained about Crown taking all the credit, but I liked the team. A good heist movie usually has a team of people with different tasks and specialties to pull off the caper, so you have a bunch of interesting supporting characters. In this one he ditches the team before we even know their names. It becomes a one-man show except when he needs accomplices, and then they are either his company’s employees or nameless, personality-less people he presumably paid off to do certain tasks. The most likable character in this movie is actually the cop that’s after him, making this probaly the only movie in cinema history where Denis Leary is the most sympathetic character. I do think Thomas Crown is a good character, but since the whole movie is pretty much on his shoulders it’s hard to not start resenting him after a while. The guy is so rich and his idea of an entertaining movie is rubbing his lifestyle in your face. He’s so rich and we don’t see him work for it. The motive for his crimes is boredom. The only reason we like him is because he has some clever tricks and likes to fuck with people.

One time I called John McClane the working man’s James Bond. Well here we have DIE HARD’s John McT directing a guy who played James Bond. And this character is the total opposite of McClane. McClane is working class, Crown is super rich. McClane is a cop, Crown is a criminal. McClane is thrust into these fights by circumstance and would rather not be there, Crown instigates the fight himself and strings his adversaries along to entertain himself. McClane loses his wife, Crown gets the girl. McClane blows shit up and jumps off things, Crown rolls under a gate and puts a painting in his briefcase. McClane ends the movie covered in dirt and blood, Crown is not only clean but wearing a bowler hat.

So it’s very much no DIE HARD but it’s not too bad a movie. It’s well shot and put together by McT. They have some nods to the original like the scenes of Crown just driving around in vehicles for fun. He has a plane again, and a boat sits in for the duny buggy. There’s also a cheesy Sting version of “Windmills of Your Mind” on the end credits. But I missed the split screen from the original heist scene. Still, they did a good job of taking the cat-fucking-mouse kernel of the original and turning it into a new story. And it’s refreshing to see a “fun” movie aimed squarely at adults. We like that shit too, you know. Hollywood seems to forget that sometimes.

So we’ll put this one in the “pretty good” column for McT, to balance out for ROLLERBALL and keep him in the game. The reason I finally watched it is because Paul Verhoeven is supposed to be doing the sequel. So we’ll see what happens with two world class filmatists on one series. Will it be closed to Friedkin/Frankenheimer/FRENCH CONNECTION or De Palma/Woo/MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE? Or something alot weirder and more perverted? My guess is C, but only time will tell.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2007 at 3:15 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews, Romance, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)”

  1. Hi Vern. Long time reader, first time commenter here. Actually I was hoping to see if other people have similar responses as I do to this post but alas. Perhaps this is a much older catalog and it wasn’t a film of the highest profile. When I read this review it had been at least over 14 years since I last saw the film. I enjoyed it (as I always have) but was rather puzzled by the “music” problem you had with it. I own the soundtrack to the film and some of the musical cues in that album are among my favorites. So I decided to go back and watch it again (in high-definition as not to miss anything visually or auditorially). While I understood your gripes (which sentiment I often share after seeing your reviews), to my own surprise, I now have a much better appreciation of this breezy, jazzy film.

    [Spoiler aplenty to whom who haven’t seen this movie from this point on]

    The first elephant in the room is the music. Yes. The score played during the heist is exactly like what you have described – cheesy drum machine and guitar riffs that seemed to have been lifted from some cheap DTV movies, as if the filmmakers and the composer were slapping the audience with the attitude of “look at how godsmackingly cool we are when deep down we… don’t have anything deep down”. However, you also mentioned that it started out “classy” (and in fact, ended classy too until the credits roll where the Sting-covered original theme song came on). And it is with such stark contrast in this juxtaposition that I’d like to believe that it was deliberately campy; a way to not-so-subtly hint at the viewers that this part of the film is not to be taken seriously at all. In fact, this group of thieves only looked professional, but are in fact instantly forgettable as a band of bumbling amateur. Not only that, the fact that this piece of crappy music isn’t even included on the album should be a more confident support to this theory. If you have a chance, please listen to “Glider pt.1” and “Glider pt.2” on the CD back to back. The recurring music themes throughout the movie culminate to their wholeness with smooth and airy piano backed by a delightful orchestra in these two tracks. For me, not many music I have ever heard are able to recreate the feeling of flight nearly as well. It’s like a few songs in some of Prince’s albums in recent years (“No More Candy 4 U” and “Everybody Loves Me” come to mind) that are simplistic in both lyric and melodies as if he ran completely out of fucks to give, to the point that one might ask “what the hell on earth are you doing, Mr. Nelson?” or say “man does he suck balls more than ever now.” But I can almost see him laughing his heels off recording them. (I didn’t. What I wouldn’t give to see the man play live!) It is not that he is no longer able to produce music that can melt your very existence, because he still does, but it seemed more like he was drawing attention to how craftless and shallow music has become. Now I am not saying Bill Conti is Prince, but I do believe he was applying the same logic for that portion of the film, and once the fake heist is out of the way, so did the corny music.

    And this also leads to what I believe to be the main concept of the film – facade. The whole film revolves around the idea of something hiding just beneath the surface, like the prominently featured painting “Son of Man”. When I first watched it, I also just took it as some rich man committing crime simply because he was bored and that he just could, with an obnoxiouly proactive female insurance investigator persuing him for the obscene amount of commission and more for the thrill. But upon my recent viewing I noticed it was more than that. The lead characters are two people at the top of their games but with no one but their own loneliness to share with. Thomas Crown having to put on a smugness to deal with people that are either kissasses or those who are smugger. Catherine Banning is strong woman constantly having to appear even stronger and more nonchanlant to face the misogyny around her. She even had to lie about her growing feelings for the man she is chasing to appear professional. There is so much deceit around them that even when they pour their hearts out, we are not sure if they are being truthful. Inexahistible wealth aside, as human beings they are incredibly sad. So sad that when Thomas Crown revealed his feelings to his psychiatrist, her laughing at his conundrum seemed cruel and sadistic, because her reaction is probably what most people would have: “boo-hoo, rich boy finally found his match (in both rivalry and in relationship)!” Then you have a tough-talking detective who clearly has a strong antipathy for the rich, but came through for Catherine in the end saying the missing painting is a problem only a small percent of the population care about. Though I don’t think it is politically correct, I actually think that this is a slight comment on the media nowadays. We are so focused on what the top 1 percent of the people are eating, wearing or using, that we forgot to ask ourselves what make us human. And of course there is the Monet. The stolen painting has been on the wall of the museum throughout most of the film, covered underneath another forged waterpaint art that was put back by Thomas Crown himself. As the facade of the painting is washed off and reveals what is really behind it, so do the characters’ in the movie.

    Of course, there is always the possibility that I could be reading way too much into it than it really intended, but what the heck, I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more beieving that these were John McTiernan’s artistic choices all along. Anyway, love your review as always, please keep them coming.

  2. Thanks for the in-depth analysis of the score! I’ll have to pay attention to that if I watch the movie again.

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