It’s always a dangerous thing to go back to movies you loved in your formative years because so damned often you’re left asking to yourself; “what the hell did my teenage self see in this film.” So it was with some trepidation that I revisited John McTiernan’s (Die Hard, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Predator) remake of The Thomas Crown Affair starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. Despite the flaws, The Thomas Crown Affair is a beautifully realised game of cat and mouse.
Millionaire Thomas Crown steals a one hundred million dollar Monet painting for the thrill. Insurance company detective Catherine Banning is assigned to retrieve it.
Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay has aged pretty poorly in parts. The interactions between Banning (Russo) and her primary police counterpart Michael McCann (Dennis Leary), endeavour to convince the audience that this knockabout cop (perhaps someone that the audience is meant to relate to) is a viable alternative to Crown. It doesn’t work, Leary barely registers in either funny or convincingly capable experienced detective. Frankie Faison’s Detective Paretti, McCann’s partner, has far more spark and steals every scene away from his higher billed comedian counterpart. There is also one scene where Crown and Banning are walking through the streets of New York City shopping, bonding and getting to know one and other that feels completely out of place. This saxophone scored, traditional rom-com scene of the film’s subject couple doing something ‘normal’ together undercuts their wildly unique relationship and opposition up to that point. There’s also a really strange moment in the film where Banning (Russo), who has intentionally wielded her sexuality as a weapon to get what she wants or needs, appears to her colleagues in what may as well have been a giant blue comforter that mutes her figure that she’s been flaunting up until that point. This scene occurs after she’s spent the night with Crown and it seems like a half arsed attempt of her to not appear as sexual power player that slept with her target.
Faye Dunaway’s (star of the original The Thomas Crown Affair) character The Psychiatrist is both grating and interesting. Sitting in this private session, the psychiatrist asks Crown (Brosnan), who is draped in shadow, about women and he seems preoccupied. He confesses that he hasn’t found a female partner who interests matched his own, at the moment in time that this line of questioning begins it feels force, like no woman could have possibly been suitable for this man. However, the remaining occasions that Crown sits across from the psychiatrist you get great unguarded insights into the character where she chastises him for beginning to show signs of feeling.
Brosnan is sensational as Crown. He’s got a natural flair for looking preoccupied without being aloof. Once he’s confronted with the challenge and intrigue of Banning (Russo) he glows with excitement. He is delighted to have a formidable sparring partner that is attractive in a disarming way. It’s a performance that could have degenerated into Roger Moore level smugness but instead he remains charming as hell.
Russo is divine as Banning. She is not only perhaps the most beautiful and sexual creature to ever grace the screen, but she’s brave and forthright in pursuing Crown, despite the hesitance of local police she’s been assigned to work with. She’s a bombshell, in both a figurative and literal sense, creating chaos by getting into Crown’s face, bed and house to search for her bounty. She’s the character that you’re interested in, it’s her wrestling with how (potentially) bad this decision to partner up with Crown could be that makes the film.
The final museum scene, underscored and edited in time to Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’ is just as exhilarating as it was all those years ago. McTiernan directs and coordinates the moving parts so perfectly that as your eyes are darting back and forth as the ruse of a team of men wearing bowler hats creates diversion after diversion through the museum. By the end you realise that your toes have been tapping along and you’re wearing a large grin.
The Thomas Crown Affair is the perfect defence for why films could and should be remade for new generations.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer (screenplay) from the story by Alan R. Trustman
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Dennis Leary, Ben Gazzara, Frankie Faison, Faye Dunaway, Esther Cañadas, James Saito