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The Thomas Crown Affair

A Remake That Will Steal Your Heart

Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels

Remaking a film is tricky business. The more the famous the original film is, the more difficult it is to do an adaptation that is faithful while bringing something fresh to the table. Gus Van Sant’s recent remake of Psycho was a perfect example of when Hollywood should leave well enough alone. Psycho was already a masterpiece, which Van Sant acknowledged when he remade it virtually shot for shot but with a new cast and in color. Hate to tell you, Gus, but there was nothing wrong with the original cast and Hitchcock shot the original in black and white on purpose.

The Thomas Crown Affair, on the other hand, is a remake that works very well. All of the same elements are there: bored, wealthy businessman who steals for the thrill; the smart, beautiful woman attempting to catch him and one of the sexiest cat-and-mouse games of all time. But John McTiernan’s remake isn’t an exact match, which is why the new version could be as successful as the original. For one thing, rather than revolving around a bank robbery, this version features two museum break-ins, the latter more audacious than the former.

thomas_crown_small.jpg (11986 bytes)Rene Russo’s insurance investigator Catherine Banning is an even harder case than Faye Dunaway was in the original. Banning will use any trick in the book — legal or otherwise — to save her company from writing a check for $100 million to replace the stolen painting. Yet while she’s fully capable of seducing Crown to trap him, she’s also tired of the game and trying to figure out if she has truly met her romantic match or simply a better player.

As Crown, Pierce Brosnan is perfect as the suave, calculating, thrill-seeking thief. Brosnan has been understandably concerned about typecasting over the years, and Crown has some similarities to James Bond and Remington Steele, but it would be a shame if Brosnan gave up these roles. He’s so good at them.

Crown recognizes even before Catherine does that their game playing could have permanent consequences other than jail. Yet despite peeking into his therapy sessions with Dunaway as his psychiatrist (a nice tip of the hat to the original), Crown keeps you guessing until the end as to his sincerity.

The twists and turns of Crown’s attempts to outwit police are clever and mostly logical. Of my only two quibbles, the former is how the painting fit into the briefcase without folding it. The other can’t be discussed without giving away the ending, which would be dreadfully unfair. Suffice to say, I think Crown not only went one step too far, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how he did it.

Thomas Crown.jpg (14840 bytes)The film earns its R-rating not for language or violence but for straight-out steamy sex scenes and nudity, a pleasantly adult (in the best sense of the word) reason to earn the rating. In fact, while there’s much less nudity in The Thomas Crown Affair than there is in Eyes Wide Shut, Crown is definitely the more erotic film. Russo and Brosnan’s scenes are tastefully explicit with distance and camera angles making them hot without being raw.

Denis Leary is good as the police detective who finds himself drawn to Catherine and jealous of her time with Crown. Leary could have easily fallen back on his usual smirking persona, but to his credit, he made Michael McCann a cynical New York cop without relying on his old tricks.

My only real complaint is that the costume, hair and make-up team, led by costume designer Kate Harrington, should be fired for what they did to Russo. It’s hard to make a woman as gorgeous as Russo appear average but somehow they managed to do it in almost half the movie. Banning’s (and Russo for that matter) sexiness isn’t entirely dependent on appearance (though  she is hot in the nightclub sequence), but the design staff should have done much better by her.

The Thomas Crown Affair is the sort of movie that has become far too rare today: A smart, sexy caper film for adults that proves you can have tension without explosions or car chases. If only all remakes were this good.

 

 

Review 1999 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Accompanying photographs 1999 MGM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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