a review by Jeffrey Overstreet
1999′s summer moviegoers finally have a reason to stop grumbling: John McTiernan’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is here.
Based on what we’ve seen, it’s startling to discover a summer action movie in which nobody gets shot. Who would have thought there we’d see a commercial American movie in which it’s a Monet masterpiece at stake instead of planet Earth?
For some summer moviegoers, it just won’t be enough: we’ve been trained by years and years of frantic action flicks to feel let down if guns aren’t fired, or if the whole world isn’t brought to the edge of annihilation. But for those who still have a shred of sophistication left, and an appreciation for mind games rather than mere shock-treatment, here’s a summer movie for you.
The Thomas Crown Affair is about petty criminals who act out of boredom, not serial killers or devils or giant sharks determined to freak out audiences across the country. And, fortunately for us, these anti-heroes are also filthy rich. And so we get to enjoy the vacations they take, we get to “ooh” and “ahh” at the clothes they wear, and we never have to get distracted by any nasty exploits they’re up to. Unless you’re deeply disturbed by the robbery of a beautiful painting by a man who loves the work so much he will probably take better care of it than a museum.
Rene Russo is Catherine Banning, an expert thief-catcher who has a special interest in catching the super-rich Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan, playing what he plays best … variations on James Bond.) No matter what the frustrated cops think or want, she defies them and solves the case her own self-serving way. Banning is not only charmed by Crown’s genius; she’s charmed by his exquisite taste. So she decides she’s in love, but commits to catching him at his crimes anyway.
Now, you can go two ways with this movie: You might decide to have pity on these poor smooth-talking fools, who spend more money on breakfast then you do on groceries for a month, and thus enjoy watching them get to know each other and play games with each other. Or you might decide that these empty-headed money-wasters are just plain boring, and wonder what they could possibly find attractive in each other. Some in the audience obviously wanted this to be a James Bond movie — instead of a Coke, they got a glass of wine. I found Banning and Crown’s ability to banter intelligently, their ability to dance like professionals, their edgy competition, and their senses of humor rather charming, and so I enjoyed myself the entire two hours of this relatively meandering story.
Because Crown is rich, he takes Banning (and us) on dazzling glider flights over beautiful forests in autumn, as he takes her to restaurants so elegant that you might forget to eat what you ordered, as he tries to out-dance her in the best dance scene since Pulp Fiction‘s twist.
John McTiernan, director of Die Hard, seems a bit bored with action. The opening scene seems clipped right out of the next Die Hard, but nobody gets shot. Hey, it’s just a painting they’re after… why get violent? The movie moves with such grace that we don’t realize we aren’t getting what most of us paid for — stunts and shootouts and massive explosions. Even the sex scenes, which many directors would have exploited to thrill teenage boys, become instead occasions for subtleties of light and shadow.
Russo and Brosnan are wonderful together — they are a perfect match on the big screen. Russo’s playfulness and daring are just enough to take the snobbery off of Brosnan’s debonair demeanor. It’s great to see a 45-year-old actress look like the most engaging and attractive woman to grace the screen all year. Intelligence, humor, style, and good health never looked so good (but what exactly is that green stuff she keeps drinking? Is that the secret to her enduring beauty?)
The old-fashioned feel of the film comes from the fact that it’s a re-make of Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Even the cops seem old-fashioned; they’re interested in the details of the case, but they’re not all alcoholics who treat every case like it’s a life-or-death situation. And since they aren’t chasing any red-digital-readout countdown-to-the-end-of-the-world device, they’re actually enjoyable company themselves. Especially Dennis Leary, who has a hard time convincing himself that this crime is really serious enough to spend a whole week unraveling.
While the best surprise of the movie is its brilliant, exciting, non-violent finale, I was also delighted to see Faye Dunaway, who starred in the original, back to revel in a small and amusing role as Thomas Crown‘s therapist. Crown keeps a therapist because he can; he doesn’t seem to really care what she says. So Dunaway gets to sit there and throw jabs at him, smile at him, and reveal that she sees just how lonely he has made himself with all his wealth.
For just a moment, I thought this film might actually have something to say. For the man who has everything… how about giving him the realization that he’s got nothing as long as he doesn’t know how to love. And maybe… just maybe… before the film’s over… he’ll take his first step in caring about somebody besides himself.
Director – John McTiernan
Writers – Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, based on a story by Alan R. Trustman
Director of photography – Tom Priestley
Editor – John Wright
Music – Bill Conti
Production designer – Bruno Rubeo
Producers – Pierce Brosnan and Beau St. Clair
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. 114 minutes. Rated R.
STARRING: Pierce Brosnan (Thomas Crown), Rene Russo (Catherine Banning), Denis Leary (Michael McCann), Ben Gazzara (Andrew Wallace), Frankie Faison (Paretti), Fritz Weaver (John Reynolds), Charles Keating (Golchan), Esther Canadas (Anna), Mark Margolis (Knutzhorn) and Faye Dunaway (Psychiatrist).
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