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'Thomas Crown':
An Affair to Remember


By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 1999

  Movie Critic


'The Thomas Crown Affair'
Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan star in "The Thomas Crown Affair." (MGM)

Director:
John McTiernan
Cast:
Pierce Brosnan;
Rene Russo;
Denis Leary;
Ben Gazzara;
Faye Dunaway;
Frankie Faison
Running Time:
1 hour, 53 minutes
R
Contains nudity, sex scenes and some violence
Please, please, please can I be Thomas Crown? Just for one day?

When I'm done, I promise to return the billions of dollars, the sleek catamaran (or two-hulled whatever-it-is), the unbelievable dream retreat in the Caribbean, the motorbike, the private plane, the sports car, the chauffeur, the incredible hoard of great paintings (including a Magritte that factors importantly in the movie), the astounding, castle-like home, the staggering wardrobe. . . . Just let me try everything once! Then I'll return happily to my jet-setting lifestyle on the Metro Red Line.

Of course, I could just as easily sit once more through "The Thomas Crown Affair." The movie, a remake of the super 1968 Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway classic, is a full-throttle fantasy, about as heady a movie experience as it gets. I mean, without special-effects machinery.

One Scotch, neat, to Pierce Brosnan, who wears Thomas's crown with self-deprecating panache. As the gentleman-thief in this romantic heistflick, which buffs up the classic spirit of "To Catch a Thief" or "How to Steal a Million," he's absolutely perfect.

A billionaire to whom everything – and everyone, it seems – comes easily, Crown is clearly one bored master of the universe.

That playboy ennui dissolves instantly when a priceless Monet disappears from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, one of Crown's favorite haunts. Insurance Investigator Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), whose job is to retrieve that painting, becomes convinced Crown is behind its elaborately engineered theft.

As an investigator – and a lover, the subtext makes clear – she never fails to get her man. Thomas Crown intrigues her mightily. With the grudging, carping help of local investigator Michael McCann (Denis Leary, in the supporting performance of his supporting-performance career), she throws down the elegant glove. Crown is only too happy to delicately pick it up.

"Us? Dinner?" Crown suggests, paying tribute to one of the original movie's famously laconic pickup lines.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" is more than a retrofitted Hugh Hefner reverie for boys.

Director John McTiernan and screenwriters Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer (who based the film on the original screenplay by Alan R. Trustman) create a riveting balance of power between both principals. As the adversary most likely to break Crown's industrial-strength heart and send him up the river, Russo practically wrests the picture from his bachelor's grip. She's sexy, smart and formidable.

Thanks to their mutual presence, great direction and great writing, the flames lick ever higher. The stakes between them choke the air like an outrageous plume. And just when you think this movie has burned fiercest, there's an ingeniously staged finale where Crown and Banning each face their final quandary: How to win without losing the other?

In the only egregious mistake of the movie, Dunaway plays Crown's psychiatrist, who seems to get a kick out of watching his soul go to pieces over this new woman. Crown, whose male ethos includes tight-lipped stoicism, surely would never waste his time with such self-indulgence and painful confession. This is McTiernan's way, I suppose, of winking at fans of the original movie and twitting the last remnants of male chauvinism still daring to linger. But this minor distraction does nothing to offset the affair at hand, a guilty pleasure for any aspiring bon vivants in the audience.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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