Wednesday 18 January 2012

Movie Review: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

A love story comfortably embedded in the high-glitz world of precious art, The Thomas Crown Affair targets a mature audience with a smooth vibe, eloquent character development, and only enough action to spice the story, rather than dominate it.

New York mergers and acquisitions tycoon Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) owns everything that life has to offer, but still enjoys stealing the occasional piece of art. His psychiatrist (Faye Dunaway) is quick to pin-point the lonely hole in his heart as the one thing that he cannot satisfy with his riches. After Crown masterminds a daring theft and elegantly walks off with a precious Monet painting, insurance investigator Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) is called in to recover the painting. Banning quickly suspects Crown, but he is too clever to allow her to find the necessary proof that he committed the theft. Also trying to crack the case is police detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary), who finds himself competing with Banning in attempts to corner Crown.

Banning cozies up to Crown to try and uncover his secrets, but a strong mutual attraction gradually develops between the two. Banning is caught between her job and her heart, Crown is caught between his crime and his love, and McCann would just rather be focusing on catching real criminals rather than rich men stealing over-priced art from pretentious museums.

A remake of a classic 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen and Dunaway, The Thomas Crown Affair achieves absorbing depth through patience. The Thomas Crown character is gradually revealed to be an extraordinarily rich executive, a thief, a competitive sportsman, and a fearless risk-taker. When he finally lets his guard down and succumbs to romance with the one person able to match him, the evolution rings true as the next logical step to complete his life. Outside of James Bond, Thomas Crown may be the perfect Pierce Brosnan persona, the suave playboy with everything, but always on the lookout for the next thing.

Rene Russo as Catherine Banning almost keeps up with Brosnan. Banning is a daring jet-setter, fiercely determined to do her job and cash in the commission millions. When Banning finally understands what she up against with Crown, she unleashes her sexuality on him on the dance floor in a memorably stunning see-through dress. By pushing both of them over a forbidden threshold, Banning changes their fates and sets in motion events that neither of them control - not a situation that either Crown or Banning is comfortable with. This genuine emotional uncertainty in both main characters, triggered by unexpected passion sets The Thomas Crown Affair apart and keeps director John McTiernan firmly in charge as the only person guiding the outcome.

The central relationship is a perfectly constructed conundrum, Crown realizing that Banning is the woman who can fill the gap in his life that drives him to crime, but also the woman who can destroy his life by uncovering his criminal activity. He has to find a way to establish trust and create the space for love with the one person who can either save him emotionally or dismantle his empire.

Two prolonged and well-executed art theft scenes at the lush and busy museum bookend the movie, the climax particularly dazzling as Crown cleverly outsmarts all security measures with the simplest of tools. The Thomas Crown Affair maintains its measured approach to the end, and builds its drama on welcome intellect and a credible, complex romance.

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