The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

*. Almost a really good remake.
*. As with any remake coming this long after the original (thirty years) I find the most interesting part is noticing how the times have changed. Thomas Crown is still involved in some kind of possibly shady financial dealings (director John McTiernan likened him to Donald Trump, then not a candidate for higher office), but he’s moved from Boston to New York City and races catamarans instead of playing polo.
*. This Thomas Crown is also not going to be satisfied with an erotic game of chess. No, he’s going to get naked and dirty with his conquests. On the stairway even, which I would have thought one of the very worst places in the world to go at it. One suspects that he and his lover aren’t that into board games.
*. At the time, McTiernan was best known as an action director thanks to a pair of now iconic films he’d made a decade previously: Predator and Die Hard. So, while in the first film the heist itself was presented in the briefest way imaginable (you could tell Norman Jewison wasn’t interested in it at all), here it turns into a pair of lengthy set-pieces that allow McTiernan to stay in his comfort zone.
*. I wouldn’t want to go so far though as to say that McTiernan flubs on the romance. I think he does what he can. Where I think this part of the film flags is in how totally Rene Russo overwhelms Pierce Brosnan, despite his mastering her in the end. I don’t dislike Brosnan, but I don’t think he was right as James Bond and I don’t think he’s right here either. Steve McQueen was more believable as the tycoon bored with his riches and three-piece suits. He was also more interesting, because Thomas Crown’s money is the least interesting thing about him. Or at least it was.
*. Jewison’s Thomas Crown Affair was notoriously a case of style over substance. The plot itself was a fantasy. The plot is still a fantasy here (would the proctor really let Thomas sit in the Impressionists room and eat a croissant? would none of the proctors on staff not realize three impostors showing up? would painting over the Monet and then washing the paint off with a sprinkler not damage the original just a bit?) but style has been replaced not with the merely stylish but with money.
*. The ’90s version of Thomas Crown is obviously a man of taste, hence his stealing paintings instead of money, but he seems more like the subject of an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or some very upscale fashion magazine. Unfortunately, this has the effect of making Russo’s character appear even more shallow and mercenary in being seduced by him. Because what does she really see in him other than his wonderful homes, and dining every night at the best restaurants?
*. A lot of people didn’t like Faye Dunaway’s apperance here as Thomas’s therapist. Had she become his mother? According to McTiernan some saw it as a betrayal. Others saw the part as unnecessary, and with this I concur. Remarkably, McTiernan says during the DVD commentary that she serves “the same dramatic function” as the dune buggy in the first film. What?
*. I agree with the general point made by Paul Tatara in his review, which begins by saying that this version is more (or really less) than a piece of fluff, instead calling it “a veritable motherload of Twinkie filling with no actual Twinkie surrounding it.” This didn’t bother him though, since “for once, our fond memories of a classic movie aren’t being trampled by the re-make. The original film was just as empty as this one is.”
*. But while the first time around it was a fantasy, something about it worked. It had an otherworldly dream quality. The feel of this movie is very much a this-world fantasy. There is no sense of seduction to its images beyond the crassness of its desires. We had the feeling that McQueen really did think all of this was a joke. Brosnan’s Crown is much more a part and product of his environment. We couldn’t really imagine him out of it.
*. Still, I found it quite enjoyable. Russo is a force that, at least for the first couple of acts, dominates the screen (and Brosnan), clothes on or off. But then there’s the ending. Whereas Faye Dunaway lost her playboy, Russo gets hers in a totally silly coda. I hated it. In fact, hate isn’t strong enough.
*. I suppose it’s defensible on some level. Jewison thought McQueen and Dunaway were a pair of shits who deserved each other but couldn’t consummate their narcissistic fascination. Here they’re a pair of ultimately vacuous social climbers (though still, in McTiernan’s own judgment, a pair of narcissists, even if Dunaway’s shrink won’t use the n-word). Remarkably, they get exactly what they want. For them, money really can, and does, buy happiness, which is a complete rejection of everything the first film stood for.
*. But then, by 1999 hadn’t we all sold out? Hadn’t we learned to stop worrying and enjoy the simple pleasures of loving ourselves? For wealthy boomers like Thomas and Catherine jetting off to exclusive parts unknown this was the final piece of the puzzle after brief careers of luxury and self-indulgence: a happy ending.

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