'The Thomas Crown Affair' Is One Sleight Of Hand That Actually Delivers The Goods.
By James DiGiovanna
AUGUST 16, 1999: RENE RUSSO, WHO stars opposite Pierce Brosnan in this film, has spent the last two weeks going on virtually every television talk show to pimp her role. It seems the big topic is that she's naked in the movie, and every talk-show host has regurgitated this question: "Most actresses stop getting undressed on-camera when they turn 40... how come you've decided to start doing nude scenes?" I've literally seen a half-dozen interviewers ask this question almost verbatim, showing just how well-scripted these interactions are. Obviously, the point of the question (no doubt written by the film's publicists) is not Russo's age, but rather to let audiences know that you can see her nipples if you pay your $7.50 for this flick. Still, it does raise some interesting questions about getting older.
And, synchronistically enough, the aging body is a central theme of The Thomas Crown Affair. Thomas Crown (Brosnan) is an extremely wealthy business-type guy who does mergers and acquisitions, which is basically a complicated and genteel way of stealing money. Having mastered legalized gentleman thievery, he decides to have a go at the more risqué and risky world of heisting impressionist artwork.
This involves an elaborate plan that is cinematically well-executed and extremely fun to watch. Fortunately for Mr. Crown, it also brings investigator Catherine Banning (Russo) in to begin investigating him.
Her version of investigating involves taking off all her clothes and rolling around Crown's magnificent Manhattan townhouse with him.
Brosnan is also naked in these scenes, though no talk-show host seems to be as worked-up about his 44-year-old buttocks as they are about Russo's 43-year-old breasts. I guess we're used to seeing older men's bodies on display (Clint Eastwood is trying to make a second career out of just this move), but there's something extra naughty and transgressive about seeing an older woman who's not afraid to reveal her assets.
Between scenes of swordplay and art theft Crown talks to his attractive, older female therapist, played by Faye Dunaway (who played the investigator in the 1968 version of this movie), about being an older man who maybe needs to stop gallivanting about with under-aged models and find someone with his same level of sophistication.
Meanwhile, investigator Banning talks to a police detective (Denis Leary, who has become increasingly less annoying as he gets older) about how maybe she's reached the age where she should open herself up to something more meaningful than her string of inter-continental quickies with barely-legal boy-toys.
The movie is filmed in the style of American cinema of the late '60s and early '70s: lots of street-scene montages, shots through store windows, slowly paced sequences with eclectic musical scores, and closeups used for punctuation rather than as a means to make the movie more easily editable for later video release.
It's also paced like a film from that last golden age of American cinema. Some modern audiences might find it a tad slow, at least in the middle, but the brilliantly staged heist sequences that open and close the movie should salve the effects-hungry eyes of the movie-goer raised on MTV and Industrial Light and Magic.
The creators of this film used this older style to give the film a period feel, and thus highlight the ages of the protagonists. Using sequences that are reminiscent of the films they probably watched when they were in their 20s makes the romantic ramblings of Russo and Brosnan more pointed, as if to bring them back, visually, to the time when they were less jaded about love. It's a striking technique, and will certainly be effective for anyone who has a memory of that period in motion picture history.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers, perhaps fearing that this style might fall flat or seem damningly "old-fashioned" to a lot of younger movie goers, modernize things by putting in an excessive and intrusive number of product placements. In case you're wondering, all the phones are made by Lucent Technologies; investigator Banning drinks Pepsi One; and Thomas Crown is frightfully fond of Bulgari.
While we've come to expect product placement in movies, it was particularly out of place here, detracting from the overall feel and even contradicting one of the characters: for most of the film Russo drinks some kind of green health-food beverage, then all of a sudden she's hoisting a Pepsi One to her lips, with the label carefully pointed at the camera.
Aside from these financially motivated lapses, it's refreshing to see a big-budget Hollywood movie that ties its visual apparatus thematically to the plot. Unfortunately, the movie is not entirely stellar. It's not that it's ever bad, it's just limp at times. While still standing above most current releases, the sensitive and well-thought-out sequences made me wish the entire film could have been as memorable as the movies it mimics.
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