THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR

 

THE CAST

Thomas Crown ... Pierce Brosnan

Catherine Banning ... Rene Russo

Michael McCann ... Denis Leary

Andrew Wallace ... Ben Gazzara

John Reynolds ... Fritz Weaver

Psychiatrist ... Faye Dunaway

Directed by John McTiernan; written by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, based on the screenplay "The Thomas Crown Affair" by Alan R. Trustman; photographed by Tom Priestley; edited by John Wright; production designed by Bruno Rubeo; music by Bill Conti; produced by Pierce Brosnan and Beau St. Clair. An Irish Dreamtime production. A Metro Goldwyn Mayer release. Running time: 1:54. MPAA rating: R (language, sensuality, nudity, violence).

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Review Nš 1

'Thomas Crown' a pricey-dicey romantic thriller

The Chicago Tribune

By Michael Wilmington

"The Thomas Crown Affair" is the kind of movie that, if it were working right, should have oozed style, sex, excitement and glamour. But, for my money, it only manages to waste some money and break out into a fine sweat. A remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway hit, this pricey-dicey romantic thriller about sudden love between a rich and elegant thief and a fetching hard-nosed lady cop is too expensive for its own good, too chic for comfort. Some audiences will enjoy it, but probably not as much as they'd enjoy the original, undiluted.

Like its source, this new "Crown" starts out as a heist thriller, then switches to a mix of detective story and erotic cat-and-mouse game. Eventually, it becomes a battle of the sexy: a tiff waged between the fabulously wealthy corporate and criminal mastermind, Crown (here played by Bondsman Pierce Brosnan) and an intrepid, principled lady shamus who's hot on his trail (Rene Russo).

Director John McTiernan ("Die Hard," "Die Hard with a Vengeance") and his crew keep trying to dazzle us with the high-tech thriller elements and thrill and titillate us with the steamy lovemaking between Brosnan and Russo. Yet at its worst, the new "Thomas Crown" is just another bloated, pumped-up throwback. Remade with lots of pizzazz but little wit or soul, it's a movie that tries to translate a zingy '60s sensibility to the '90s and pretty much flops.

The reasons are obvious. Pierce Brosnan is no Steve McQueen. Rene Russo is no Faye Dunaway (though Russo was quite good and though I was also happy to see the real Faye popping up with a classy little cameo as Crown's gorgeous shrink). There's more: John Wright can't edit like Hal Ashby. Bill Conti can't pen a tune like Michel Legrand. (Legrand's main title song, the pop baroque "Windmills of Your Mind," won the '68 Oscar.) And cinematographer Tom Priestley, despite improved equipment, can't light up a picture like the great Haskell Wexler -- whose multi-camera virtuosity on the original "Crown" was underappreciated at the time.

Last and most crucial, McTiernan can't handle stylish claptrap with half the panache and expertise of Norman Jewison ("In the Heat of the Night," "Fiddler on the Roof") -- though having that sentiment would have surprised me in 1968, when I saw the original movie. Back then, despite being a hard-core McQueen fan and a devotee of "Bonnie and Clyde," I was disappointed by "Thomas Crown." I found it stylish but empty, and I blamed Jewison, who seemed to me a prototypical new-style Hollywood hack, all flash and no fire.

Today, by comparison, Jewison looks like an expert genre-mixer and consummate stylist and McTiernan looks like a camera acrobat in search of a script. Even the robbery in this new film -- a highlight of the first movie, because of the split-screen devices used by Jewison and Wexler -- is exciting but absurd. If you rent the original "Thomas Crown" on video (and you should), you'll find that it's held up amazingly, that it's more coherent and glamorous -- and much more fun -- than this new one. If the Brosnan-Russo-McTiernan version looks half as good in three decades, I'd be surprised.

Not that it should have to, of course. Audiences looking for a good time on a weekend night will have part of one here -- especially during the opening art museum heist, which is so complex and over-the-top, it becomes funny. And they'll get tease and heat from the sex scenes and a roller-coaster thrill or two from McTiernan's hyper-active camera, which keeps sliding along the action like a pickpocket looking for victims. They can also relish Denis Leary's bemused performance as tough cop McCann. (Playing the equivalent to Paul Burke's Eddy Malone in the original, Leary -- along with lawyer Ben Gazzara -- are two cast members who actually better their counterparts).

Back in 1968, Jewison told interviewers that "Crown" was a trifle, but worth watching for its visual pizazz. He was right, even though McTiernan's team sometimes act as if they were re-creating a great movie love story, full of timeless passion and relevance. And, if you compare "Crown" to most current movies, maybe it seems that way.

In most movies before 1968, McQueen's Crown would have been the suave villain flirting with the heroine but bested by the stalwart male detective. But instead, Crown himself becomes a real male fantasy character: rich beyond imagining, a charmed and charming inhabitant of the pleasure-oriented world of the American elite. But he's also a Golden Boy with a psychopathic bent, a reckless bravado that drives him to plan and execute daring robberies. Both times, Crown manages to baffle cops and insurance experts, until an outside expert is called in to investigate, whereupon she unmasks Crown, and sets mutual sparks ablaze.

In the old "Crown," McQueen and Dunaway had delicious fun together -- especially in their famous wineglass scene. Here, though, we actually see the "Crown" couple nude and entwined, unobstructed by any "Eyes Wide Shut "-style digitized kibitzers, there's little sense of fun at all.

That's too bad. It was Brosnan's love for the first movie -- and McQueen's role -- that helped prompt this remake. But Brosnan hasn't really filled Crown's shoes. His Crown doesn't project enough surly grace or cocky bravado. He doesn't have McQueen's charming insolence. McQueen's Crown was supposed to be a scion of wealth with a daredevil streak; Brosnan's Crown, by contrast, is supposed to be a lower-middle-class guy who fought his way up. Yet, Brosnan doesn't project that toughness; it's as if he's had all his rough edges shaved off.

The screenplay for the new "Crown" was written in a strange way. Leslie Dixon ("Outrageous Fortune") was hired only for the romantic scenes, Kurt Wimmer ("Sphere") only for the heist and action stuff. And the movie feels as if it were parceled out into different sections, as if no clear viewpoint lay behind it. The '68 version, for good or ill, was all of a piece.

Here, there's an absence of light-heartedness all the way through -- even when the filmmakers try to pull of elaborate visual jokes involving Rene Magritte's painting of the bowler-hatted man. Instead of playing with the material, or using it as springboard for scintillating set-pieces, or roguishly flaunting superstardom, (like McQueen and Dunaway), everybody in the remake seems to be trying to re-create the mood and effect of a classic. Are they joking? The old "Crown" had a sleek, cool sense of fun, of sex and romance fitting the '60s Playboy era. The new one seems lost out of time, a sexy thriller in search of both lovers and an attitude.

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Review Nš 2

Just Call It the Rene Russo Affair

Friday, August 6, 1999

Los Angeles Times

By KENNETH TURAN

"The Thomas Crown Affair" plays by the rules. A moderately diverting entertainment as sleek and aerodynamically sound as the glider its characters tool around in, it takes no extraordinary chances and delivers no major surprises. With one exception. For though Pierce Brosnan, whose production company initiated the idea of remaking the 1968 Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway caper film with an eye toward his eventual starring role, it's Rene Russo, his opposite number, who makes the most of this chance.

A former model, Russo has been in film for 10 years, holding down highly visible roles opposite some of Hollywood's biggest male stars: Clint Eastwood in "In the Line of Fire," John Travolta in "Get Shorty," Kevin Costner in "Tin Cup," Dustin Hoffman in "Outbreak" and Mel Gibson in two episodes of "Lethal Weapon."

Yet it's a mark of how little space is left for women in male-dominated studio films that despite all that screen time, Russo's decade of sidekick-cupcake roles has never before given her the opportunity to create the kind of believable, engaging genre character she comes up with here.

Russo plays Catherine Banning, a smart, been-there insurance investigator for a major Swiss firm retained to look into the theft of a $100-million Monet from an unnamed New York museum that is a dead-ringer for the Metropolitan but, a prominent on-screen disclaimer insists, is a completely fictitious place.

"This is an elegant crime done by an elegant person," Banning announces to the disgust of salt-of-the-earth New York police detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary), whose role consists exclusively of being exasperated whenever Banning says or does anything he wouldn't have himself.

Banning's candidate is in fact the man we have seen commit the super-elaborate heist in the film's meticulous opening sequence, smoothly directed by John McTiernan of "Die Hard" and "The Hunt for Red October." That would be Thomas Crown (Brosnan), a completely suave individual in hand-tailored suits who wagers $100,000 on a golf shot with the kind of aplomb James Bond uses to order the perfect martini.

But, despite all his wealth, Crown is no hero to his psychiatrist (Dunaway redux, in an uncertain cameo). She knows that he has issues with trust, that he may be successful but that he's also a self-involved loner who has never met a woman he considers worthy of his regard. Which is why he is so tickled when he meets Banning, who tells him her suspicions straight away and boasts of always getting her man. Will she get him?, he wonders. "Oh, I hope so," Banning all but purrs.
The opportunity for playful cat-and-mouse sparring is the reason "Thomas Crown" was worth the trouble of remaking. In fact, in an unusual maneuver, two writers with different skills were hired to do the script, with Kurt Wimmer writing the crisp heist sequences and Leslie Dixon doing the dicier but acceptable romantic dialogue.

Once Banning and the gentleman thief set their sights on each other, part of "Thomas Crown" turns into a tepid "Lives of the Rich and Famous" travelogue, as the pair go glamorously hang-gliding and jet off to his charming island hideaway in Martinique.

More diverting is the psychological duel between these two game players, both powerfully allergic to being played for fools and uncertain if they can be both true to their unbending personal codes of behavior and still trust another person enough to let them into their lives.

In this battle there's no doubt that Russo, with a different hairdo that accentuates the angles of her face, invests her character with the most involving weapons. Her Catherine Banning, handsomely costumed by Kate Harrington, has a feisty self-confidence that's capable of morphing into fury and flummoxing all the men in the immediate vicinity. It's a star turn--complete with a sassy dance in a much-publicized Halston dress and even more publicized nude scene--that's especially welcome because it comes from an actress who has not obviously been a star.

One of the things that keeps "The Thomas Crown Affair" from taking full advantage of that performance is that Brosnan plays Crown like a human ice cube: cold, brittle and slippery. This character makes Brosnan's James Bond performances cuddly by comparison, and even McQueen, who was not the warmest actor going, registered as more of a recognizable human being.

Ignoring these limitations whenever he can, which is not always, McTiernan does a professional job of direction and delivers a civilized production that entertains well enough. And if this film's ending is less willing to be ambiguous than the original, that's just one more sign of the unadventurous movie times we live in. As if we really needed one.

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Review Nš 3

A 60's Caper Made Glitzier 

By JANET MASLIN 

August 6, 1999, Friday 



''This is an elegant crime done by an elegant person,'' somebody in the very 90's remake of ''The Thomas Crown Affair'' says -- none too elegantly -- about an art heist committed by the title character. What that apparently means is that Crown stays natty even when sliding under a museum's security gate, that he is heard calmly betting $100,000 on a golf shot, that his house on a tropical island is atop the highest hill and that he and this story's heroine share their most honestly amorous moment when they go clothes shopping a deux. If the film had been shot in 3-D Imax, it would be dangling price tags that the audience could reach out and almost touch. 

The movie and its dapper stars, Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, glide by glossily enough to give it the earmarks of a guilty pleasure. But guilty is the key word, since this papier-mache romance seems to think that cupidity and Cupid are interrelated. That's not a new idea in Hollywood, but it sure is a crass one when the leading characters fan their peacock feathers better than they flirt. For an allegedly steamy love story, ''The Thomas Crown Affair'' works best (as ''Notting Hill'' did) as proof that sex can be in the head: the film editor's head. In the midst of a boudoir montage, one would-be erotic shot finds the stars simply stretched out nude on their stomachs, like stacked bearskin rugs. 

John McTiernan, better known for the action in ''Predator,'' ''The Hunt for Red October'' and the ''Die Hard'' movies than for the tender feelings expressed therein, has remade the once-stylish original 1968 ''Thomas Crown Affair'' into a film so Janus-like that it divides screenwriting responsibilities. With Leslie Dixon (''Outrageous Fortune'') apparently supplying the romance and Kurt Wimmer (''Sphere'') in charge of Crown's larceny, it's understandable that the film has an uncertain tone. And that it is more comfortable with well-plotted scams, like a nifty one featuring a horde of Magritte figures as decoys than with what might happen between a wily billionaire thief-artiste and the glamorous insurance investigator in whom he meets his match. 

Ms. Russo's Catherine Banning, easily the most relentless and fashionable insurance investigator since three months ago (when Catherine Zeta-Jones played a similar role in ''Entrapment''), makes her entrance in the film by flashing a garter while on the trail of a stolen Monet. Having watched Mr. Brosnan's Thomas Crown make off with it in a cleverly elaborate early sequence, the audience is already poised to watch a battle of wits between these two. And because the movie drips sophistication (the characters order ''vodka rocks, twist'' and ''scotch neat'' when they drink), it promises a round of chesslike gamesmanship as they balance self-interest with love. 

Love wins on paper. But on the screen, it's dueling egos all the way. To a Martian with the bad luck to be monitoring lavish Hollywood movies this summer, it would be hard to believe that real emotion was involved anywhere in this story, even if Catherine and Thomas are seen suffering over matters of love and trust. It must be said that Ms. Russo, who has the more assertive role and also the greater potential for heartbreak, does her considerable best to make this credible while modeling a sleek new costume in every scene. She basks in the role and in its potential for topless abandon, even if this is the sort of film in which a technician is credited with designing her hair. 

Mr. Brosnan seems more comfortably Bondian here than he does in 007 films (and there's a Catamaran Coordinator for the scene in which he playfully capsizes a new-looking vessel, just because Crown can). He moves smoothly through the film and brings suave credibility to its caper scenes, if not to its more intimate moments. Denis Leary is snappishly effective as the police investigator who oversees the Monet investigation and otherwise knows the lay of the land. ''From Brooklyn to Greenwich in one generation,'' he says of the billionaire art connoisseur. ''You've got to have the paintings to match.'' 

Among notable footnotes to this tale of big-ticket love are appearances by Faye Dunaway, star of the original with Steve McQueen, as Crown's psychiatrist, and by the entry of the New York Public Library as the filmmakers' closest approximation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (The Met was not wholeheartedly behind a film about outsmarting its security systems.) Synergy-wise, Lucent Technologies let its offices be used as Crown's and has products plugged in the film, as does the jeweler Bulgari. A lovely if forged art collection decorates the background. So, briefly, does the soulfully pouty model Esther Canadas, who plays a svelte mystery woman in Crown's life. Stick around for the last reel, when her totally improbable function in the story is revealed. 

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