RogerBW's Blog

The Thomas Crown Affair (II) 31 January 2019

1999 crime/drama film, dir. John McTiernan, Piers Brosnan, Rene Russo; IMDb / allmovie. In New York, a painting by Monet is stolen from the Met; insurance investigator Catherine Banning helps the police to track down the thief, who may be the businessman Thomas Crown.

If we have to have remakes, let us at least have remakes like this: ones that take the same basic premise as the original, such as a romance between a bored businessman who has turned to crime for amusement and the insurance investigator who may be getting a little bored herself, and do different things with it. That wasn't the original plan, but once McTiernan had control of the project he made several changes to the original script, not least shifting the type of crime from armed robbery to art theft. Which instantly makes it, at least in terms of Movie Logic, more glamorous and more fun.

More significantly, and I don't know whether this was in the original script or added by McTiernan but it's a key part of the film, this Thomas Crown does his own crime rather than just being the shadowy mastermind. It's an approach that makes far more sense for the "do crime because I'm bored and want some excitement" personality, as well as involving one of the principals in the film's action rather than having it all done by minor characters. But there's a more subtle shift in his character too: 1968 Crown is doing the crime because he's bored, but it doesn't seem to give him any particular pleasure until the duel starts. 1999 Crown treats the whole thing as a joke: yes, he's also doing it because he can, but he finds it fun.

This film feels as though it has much more character development, perhaps because both the leads get to do things rather than look pretty and emote at each other. In particular, Bannon is much more convincing as someone genuinely trying to decide whether to follow honesty or love, helped by a surprisingly effective turn by Denis Leary as the NYPD detective who falls for her even though he clearly knows he doesn't have a chance.

"The week before I met you, I nailed two crooked real-estate agents and a guy who was beating his kids to death. So some Houdini wants to snatch a couple swirls of paint that are really only important to some very silly rich peopleā€¦ I don't really give a damn."

And while the sparring is better than in the original, the falling in love is more convincing too, with a sense of fun and enjoyment between the two as well as just the challenge. Brosnan doesn't need to stretch hard from the James Bond role he was playing at about this time; Russo has more work to do to be an effective counterpart, but does it, and the film's more hers than his. (And unlike her 1968 equivalent, she does actual deduction and research as well as working off the psychology of the thief.)

Yes, all right, this could have been as different from the 1968 film as that was from other romantic/criminal stories; it could have had an original story and still worked. But if a remake was bound to happen, at least this remake is surprisingly worth watching; it's fantastic and escapist against the original's grit, and that means it has enough to say to justify its existence.

(It's also McTiernan's last good film, coming before the unfortunate Rollerball (2002) and Basic (2003).)

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  1. Posted by DaveD at 11:30am on 31 January 2019

    This one's a favourite of mine, for all the reasons you point out here. and one more: that sense of fun applies to the whole thing. From the initial robbery to the dancing to the big set piece at the end, the fun's there and it's infectious.

    Now I have an excuse to go watch this again (a reaction I didn't have to the original's review, no matter how cool McQueen and Dunaway might be).

  2. Posted by Robert at 02:25pm on 01 February 2019

    I also really enjoyed the soundtrack and score for this version.

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