Monday, 28 April 2014

Movie Review: The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

A high-class heist drama folded into a romance, The Thomas Crown Affair benefits from the high voltage electricity of stars Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, but the film's lacklustre final third dims its impact.

In Boston, suave millionaire businessman Thomas Crown (McQueen) organizes a slick bank heist, netting more than $2 million. He stashes the loot in a Swiss bank account. With police detectives stumped, the bank's insurance company calls in investigator Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway) to try and identify the mastermind behind the theft. Working with Detective Eddie Malone (Paul Burke), Vicki identifies Crown as the main suspect.

She finds reasons to get close to Crown, hoping to trap him into a confession. The two become lovers, without ever fully trusting each other. Meanwhile Vicki uses unconventional methods to snag the getaway driver Erwin Weaver (Jack Weston), but he is unable to identify Crown, having never met him. With the relationship between Crown and Vicki becoming ever more serious, Crown decides to test her allegiance.

Steve McQueen, the most popular movie start in the world, wanted to prove that he was capable of playing urbane characters more reliant on smarts than guns. He teamed up with director Norman Jewison to bring Thomas Crown to the screen, and McQueen's minimalist acting style proved suitable for a role that required plenty of secrecy and charm, and precious little in the way of conversational skills.

McQueen and the more animated and naturally glamorous Dunaway find almost instant chemistry. After the tension of the opening heist, it's the chemistry that keeps the film bubbling through the middle third, as the romance unfolds with the requisite playful tension between hunter and prey. As an exclamation point to the power of remaining silent, in one of the most famous foreplay scenes in movie history Crown and Vicki engage in a seductive and totally silent chess match, glances and body language substituting for words, doubtless much to McQueen's satisfaction.

But then the Alan R. Trustman script runs into trouble. The third act stumbles first into mushy drift and then into a hastily conceived and unconvincing test of devotion, as the sparkle gives way to a scrambled ending. The Thomas Crown Affair also suffers from a decidedly uninspired supporting cast, the likes of Paul Burke, Jack Weston and Gordon Pinsent given little to do with underdeveloped characters, and executing awkwardly.

But the film offers enough smooth mystery to overcome these weaknesses. The character of Thomas Crown is an enduring enigma, a man who has everything and who is intent on rewarding himself with more, just because he wants a challenge. And ironically his potential capture of a soulmate in the form of Vicki may well justify his little excursion into criminal mastermind territory.

Jewison jazzes up the film with a snappy visual style filled with split screens, creating plenty of dynamism. The Michel Legrand soundtrack complements the action, and the main theme song Windmills Of Your Mind perfectly captures the mood.

The Thomas Crown Affair does fizzle a bit, but it mostly just sizzles.

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