The Thomas Crown Affair

1999, R, 109 min. Directed by John McTiernan. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Rene RussoMark Margolis, Denis Leary, Fritz Weaver, Frankie Faison, Ben Gazzara, Charles Keating, Mark Margolis, Faye Dunaway.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 6, 1999

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 of 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 the Metropolitan Museum 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 the Metropolitan 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 the Metropolitan 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 siècle take on an older, better movie.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More John McTiernan Films
It begins in a muddle and ends in confusion. In between, Basic takes more silly twists than any that might be on display at a ...

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 28, 2003

Die Hard
Bruce Willis discovered his movie legs in this superb action film that thrusts him into the Everyman Hero role when he is coincidentally visiting a ...

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 27, 2002

More by Marc Savlov
Small Engine Repair
Toxic masculinity sizzles and pops, leading to a reeling third act

Sept. 10, 2021

We Need to Do Something
The terror is coming from inside and outside the house

Sept. 3, 2021


The Thomas Crown Affair, John McTiernan, Pierce Brosnan, Rene RussoMark Margolis, Denis Leary, Fritz Weaver, Frankie Faison, Ben Gazzara, Charles Keating, Mark Margolis, Faye Dunaway

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle