Movie review: ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ (1999)

Yesterday I reviewed “After the Sunset” (click here to read it) and found myself mentioning the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” several times as a comparison. Well, I thought, maybe I should review “The Thomas Crown Affair” … and here it comes. I have to say I’m not a big fan of remakes (look at “Fun with Dick and Jane” as just one example of a bland revival — click here to read my review of the original). There is a reason that someone copies something – usually because it was good. However, I can’t say that the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” is better because I haven’t watched the original in its entirety. I’d have to believe that Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway did an exemplary job, but I still cannot compare. “The Thomas Crown Affair” heated up screens with a couple of fortysomethings hooking up (especially on a staircase) and is a solid film from first frame to its last.

‘The Thomas Crown Affair’
(1999; 113 minutes; rated R; directed by John McTiernan and starring Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo and Denis Leary)

ADVENTURE IS SOMETIMES BETTER THAN MONEY

An old saying says that imitation is the best form of flattery, but I’m not sure that “After the Sunset” was trying to imitate the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair.” In any case, the two have many similarities with the exception being that “The Thomas Crown Affair” is a good film while “After the Sunset” is your basic stinker.

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The similarities pile up: both have Pierce Brosnan; both are caper films; both have a steamy component between Brosnan and the female lead; both have intricate plots; and it even drills down to minutiae such as Brosnan driving an American muscle car on an island paradise.

However, there’s one big difference: “The Thomas Crown Affair” is good filmmaking with solid acting and a well put-together story – and it didn’t have to suffer an abominable performance from Woody Harrelson. Actually, there was a second: director John McTiernan is top-shelf, while “After the Sunset’s” Brett Ratner’s a bit uneven in the directing portion of his career (McTiernan’s “Die Hard,” etc., certainly trumps Ratner’s “Rush Hour” franchise).

The Thomas Crown Affair” also reaped a lot of publicity because of the age of its stars. Rene Russo, who plays “Catherine Banning,” was 45 when the film released but was certainly up to a steamy scene on a staircase with Brosnan (who was 46) and later in the film did a topless shot on a beach that certainly wasn’t a scene given in condescension to an aging star’s ego.

Still, the looks of the two headlining actors remained secondary throughout as both gave excellent performances worthy as near top of each’s resume. The supporting cast, especially two cops (Denis Leary and Frankie Faison), is solid but has to take a backseat to the chemistry between Brosnan and Russo.

In “The Thomas Crown Affair,” Brosnan is multi-millionaire businessman “Thomas Crown” and he’s bored with huge business deals where he completely overwhelms any opponent. So, you see him pull off a big art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He’s organized what looks like a robbery one way, but it’s a diversion for him stealing a $100 million painting. Ah, he doesn’t want the genteel life of a businessman after all.

With the painting gone, the insurance company sends in Russo to investigate and bring back their painting. She immediately focuses on Brosnan, who helped catch one of the crooks (he tripped him) and even temporarily donates a valuable painting of his own to hang in the place of the missing piece.

So begins the dance between that that will, of course, make them lovers (the great staircase scene); adversaries; and, with a final twist, leaving her wondering what went wrong all around … until he’s sitting behind her on a jet. Awwww.

Although he’d fail with his acting in “After the Sunset,” Brosnan is the perfect choice here to play the title character. He has the look, he has the sophistication and, most of all, he has the accent. Brosnan looks like he’s having fun here and, just like in many careers, when you’re having fun and you’re this good – then your work is good. A former “007,” Brosnan was also in “The November Man” and was sharp in the little-remembered “The Tailor of Panama” with Jamie Lee Curtis.

Russo’s emotions swing from chilly to condescending to anger to happy, but there is an adjective for just about all of them: smoldering. She’s looks smoldering just walking into a museum. It is remarkable how much better Russo is here than she was in “Tin Cup.” It was perfect casting at the perfect time for the perfect role. Russo was also in Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire” (click here for my review) but was at the top of her game again in 2002 with the wonderful “Big Trouble” opposite Tim Allen (click here for my review).

As I noted, Leary and Faison do good work as cops trying to find a thief. Leary, who plays “Det. Michael McCann” and becomes the longsuffering voice of reason on Russo’s shoulder (although she gives him a cold shoulder). He brings his usual brand of off-handed semi-sarcasm to the table. Faison, who plays “Det. Paretti” was “Barney” in “The Silence of the Lambs” (click here for my review), is a bit more lenient of Russo’s excesses and brings a bit of bonhomie to the film. Leary was also in “Demolition Man” with Arnold Schwarzenegger (click here for my review) and “Two if by Sea,” while Faison was also in “White Chicks” (click here for my review).

A couple of accomplished actors have small roles that get lost easier in the big picture than Leary and Faison and they are three-time Golden Globe nominee Ben Gazzara and Emmy nominee Fritz Weaver. Both are solid, but their parts could have been written out of the film without it missing a beat. Gazzara was in “Road House” with Patrick Swayze while Weaver got his Emmy nod for “Holocaust.”

Since this is a remake of the 1968 film with Steve McQueen it’s neat to note that Faye Dunaway, who had the Russo role in the original, has a small role as Brosnan’s therapist here. Dunaway, who was once married to Peter Wolf (one-time front man for the “J. Geils Band”), doesn’t get much to work with here – but at least she got work. Dunaway won an Oscar for “Network” and earned nominations for both “Chinatown” and the iconic blockbuster “Bonnie and Clyde.” She was also solid in the espionage classic “Three Days of the Condor” with Robert Redford (click here for my review).

The Thomas Crown Affair” was the 31st ranked film at the U.S. box office in 1999 with $69.3 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. It apparently was a financial success, too, as Wiki reports that worldwide it made $124.3 million on a budget of $43 million. The No. 1 film of the year was “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” with $431 million. Other films from that year that I have reviewed include “Dogma” (No. 66 with $30.6 million – click here for my review) and “Office Space” (No. 121 with $10.8 million – click here for my review).

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Michael Lombard has a nice little role as the museum staff member “Bobby,” who has a talking relationship with museum patron Brosnan. He is smooth in the moments he’s on the screen was also in “Network” with Dunaway as well as a card playing prosecutor in “Rounders” with Matt Damon (click here for my review).
  • The painting of a man with an apple in front of his face is “Son of Man” by René Magritte.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The idea of unusual heat in the museum rendering thermal cameras useless came from director John McTiernan‘s earlier movie Predator (1987). In that movie, McTiernan’s actual thermal cameras began to fail when the jungle temperature broke 90 degrees Fahrenheit.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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