Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Thomas Crown Affair

By Marc Savlov

AUGUST 9, 1999: 

D: John McTiernan; with Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Ben Gazzara, Frankie Faison, Fritz Weaver, Charles Keating, Mark Margolis, Faye Dunaway. (R, 109 min.)

Why? Why remake Norman Jewison's staunchly cool 1968 heist film in such a lackadaisical, uninspired manner? Not only is it a remake of a Steve McQueen film, which automatically puts two strikes against it, but McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October) forgoes much of what made the original superlative cinema (the pioneering -- and overdone -- use of split-screen imagery, for instance), in favor up updating and relocating the story from Boston to New York, but still cloaking the whole proceeding in a vaguely disjointed Sixties retro kitsch. It goes without saying that Brosnan, while he may be a passable Bond, is no Steve McQueen, and thus McTiernan's success or failure falls squarely on the strength of his story, which, unfortunately, is murky at the best of times. Brosnan plays Thomas Crown, a phenomenally wealthy New York investment banker (early on we're told he owns the skyscraper he works in) who, in a seemingly random fit of ennui, decides to raid MOMA one afternoon instead of the SEC. How terribly Nineties of him. (It ought to be noted here that all the art-gallery interiors were actually filmed in a warehouse in Yonkers, New York, since MOMA and her contemporaries are naturally wary about having stray bits of gaffer's tape affixed to their charges. The result may be the only impressive thing about this remake.) After absconding with a priceless Monet, the chilly, haughty Crown immediately raises the suspicions of the equally driven insurance investigator Catherine Banning (Russo, in a role originally played by Dunaway, who appears here as Crown's psychiatrist). After only a couple of reels, her feminine wiles manage to elicit the truth from Crown. Both of these recklessly intelligent people are old hands at playing cat 'n' mouse badminton (or perhaps squash), and so it quickly becomes less an insurance investigation than a pas de deux with enormously high stakes. Crown, for his part, wines and dines the oddly costumed Russo (despite the fact that McTiernan's film is set in the Nineties, she enters every scene wreathed in Sixties-style haute couture, with furs, boas, and although I didn't catch them, presumably white vinyl go-go boots as well), jets her off to his private mountaintop retreat in Martinique, and generally makes hay 'til the cows come home -- the cows in this case being Leary's NYPD detective Michael McCann, who rightly fears that Banning may be falling for her caseload. To be fair, the final, elliptical chase through MOMA, based on an all-too-familiar Magritte artwork, is an inspired, playful bit that allows for as many chuckles as it does for confusion, but it's a case of too little, too late. Brosnan simply isn't humanist enough to carry the Crown role. McQueen played the character as a gruffer, less closeted aesthete-cum-bank-robber, which worked infinitely better. Not a total wash, but neither much of a success, McTiernan's version of things is a tepid fin de siécle take on an older, better movie.

2 Stars

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