thomas_crown_affair_xlgIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? The Thomas Crown Affair is not available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant, but it is available for rent through the iTunes Store and Amazon Prime.

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Frankie Faison, Ben Gazzara, & Faye Dunaway

Directed by: John McTiernan

Screenplay by: Leslie Dixon & Kurt Wimmer

Pierce Brosnan was probably sick of being only known as the suave and dashing James Bond so he decided to stretch his acting talents and do something completely different by playing the suave and dashing Thomas Crown in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. The film was produced by Brosnan through his production company, Irish DreamTime, as a way for MGM to make its James Bond star happy. I don’t mean to start off on the wrong foot here by bashing Pierce Brosnan and I actually did enjoy watching The Thomas Crown Affair (really). However, it is difficult not to notice how much this film amounts to nothing more than making Pierce Brosnan look handsome and cool rather than give him a meaty character to play in a plot that has weighty stakes.

The Thomas Crown Affair is about Thomas Crown (Brosnan), a wealthy financier (the story doesn’t bother clarifying this, but all that really matters is that he is rich) who just so happens to be an art thief. Crown steals art not to make a bundle, but for the challenge of stealing something that is difficult to steal and for the simple fact that he likes art. Particularly anything by Claude Monet. The film is bookended by two heists. In the beginning, Crown steals Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary) is put on the case to figure out who stole the painting. Assisting him is Catherine Olds Banning (Rene Russo), an insurance investigator for the company that has insured the artwork. Banning immediately suspects that Crown must have stolen the painting and she decides to pursue him to confirm her suspicion. However, as with all Hollywood films that feature a handsome man and a beautiful woman, romance rears its ugly head and complicates everything.

Before his legal woes began after being charged with the crime of making a false statement to an FBI agent, director John McTiernan was one of Hollywood’s most sought after action directors. He directed Die Hard, Predator, and The Hunt for Red October, which are all films that remain popular today and have remarkably held up over the years. McTiernan had previously worked with Brosnan, directing him in a 1986 horror film called Nomads. They decided to reteam for The Thomas Crown Affair, a remake of the 1968 film directed by Norman Jewison (Moonstruck) and starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (who also unnecessarily appears in the remake as Crown’s therapist).

The Thomas Crown Affair is a story that feels very out of place in today’s uncertain economic climate. In a society where high unemployment appears to be a permanent fixture, job security is more tenuous, wages and health benefits are lower, and there is a growing rift between the wealthy and everyone else, a story about a wealthy man who steals for fun is practically offensive to today’s sensibilities. Even the fact that a man like Crown wants to steal a famous painting and thereby, deprive the general population of its enjoyment is enough to make you despise the man. Simply put, the Thomas Crown character is an over-privileged, selfish asshole and the film relies on Pierce Brosnan’s good looks and charm to make the audience overlook those qualities.

Pierce Brosnan has never been a great actor and he has relied primarily on his matinee looks to further his career. Not that there is anything wrong with that (hello Richard Gere, Kevin Costner, Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, and George Clooney). This is why Brosnan was so perfect for James Bond. The role does not require serious acting skills and so long as you have a British accent, you can perform physical stunts, and you are good looking enough for the ladies, you can fill the role. The same basically goes for Thomas Crown, a name that sounds as manufactured as James Bond. Even less so than Bond, Crown does not display a very wide range of emotions. He gets slightly pissed (when Catherine Olds Banning accuses him of seeing another woman) and shows a little bit of humor, but overall, Crown displays a bemused, contented look throughout the entire film. Nothing seems to faze him. Not even the prospect of going to prison.

Brosnan really had one thing to do in The Thomas Crown Affair. His job was to not damage his face or gain weight. Brosnan doesn’t even really play a character. He plays a stereotype, a paragon of everything that a man wants to be. He wears the nicest clothes, drives (or rather, gets driven) in the nicest cars, lives in the nicest homes, gets the best looking women, and he is perfectly lit and framed in every single shot. In one sense, you enjoy watching his character because you want to be him. However, on the other hand, if you are pretty comfortable with yourself and your station in life, then you won’t last 5 minutes before you throw up your hands and walk away from the screen.

This brings up a related issue. There is absolutely zero tension or stakes in The Thomas Crown Affair and this is the film’s most glaring problem. There is never any doubt that Thomas Crown will steal the painting, get caught for stealing the painting, or get caught for putting it back into the museum. There is also never any doubt that he will get his woman. Everything comes easily to Crown so you are left with admiring the film’s sexiness and coolness instead. In this sense, watching The Thomas Crown Affair is like watching any typical romantic comedy. You know the guy and the girl are going to get together, but you watch it to see how they do so. Same thing here.

Rene Russo as Catherine Olds Banning is a much more interesting, although contradictory, character. Ever since I saw her in her breakout role in Lethal Weapon 3, Russo has continually impressed me with her combination of great looks, wry sense of humor, and tomboyish qualities (check her out in Get Shorty). Here, she plays the insurance investigator/bounty hunter who is assigned to retrieve the stolen artwork and catch Crown. Apparently, despite working for an insurance company, her job pays her handsomely given the very expensive-looking clothing she wears in the film. Banning is set up to be this quirky person (clearly not a morning person, she does not begin her day until she has drank her green-lime sludge shake) with an uncanny ability to find her thief.

Russo does a fine job and I was glad to see that she wasn’t merely set up to be a pretty looking object of desire for Thomas Crown. She is intelligent, funny, and she has a real screen presence that especially electrifies in her scenes with Pierce Brosnan. The two actors have great screen chemistry and you buy into their relationship. At the same time, the film mishandles Banning’s conflict between doing her job and running off with Crown. The story is unable to establish exactly why Banning decides to run off with Crown rather than turn him in to the authorities. From what I got out of the movie, Banning has sex with Crown, he takes her away to his island getaway (that he has taken no other woman to), buys her nice shit, and wine and dines her. However, there is never that moment where Crown and Banning connect enough to justify Banning’s ultimate decision. We never see Crown open up to Banning so the only reason she would get together with him is for sex and to be taken care of.

For you police procedural purists out there, Banning’s always on-the-mark detective skills versus the rest of the NYPD’s always clueless ineptitude in tracking Thomas Crown will no doubt be exasperating. However, if you’re looking for a procedural type of story in the vein of David Fincher’s Zodiac, you are clearly in for a disappointing shock. The Thomas Crown Affair is not that film. The film has a playful, light quality that does not lend itself to a serious police procedural.

Now with all of these words I have spent reviewing all the various aspects of the movie, there is only one main reason to see The Thomas Crown Affair and this is for the two capers (and really more for the one at the end of the film, which I have included below) in the film. Ignoring any of the logical implausibilities involved with pulling off these art heists, John McTiernan puts together two cool and stylish sequences that are cleverly conceived and set to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” The sequences haven’t gone unscathed after all these years, but they are still very fun to watch.

The Thomas Crown Affair is an above-average film that is sexy and glossy and that does not take itself seriously. It is a throwback to old Hollywood films that were more about the stars than the plot. One can easily imagine Cary Grant playing the Thomas Crown role where he handles everything with ease and grace and never allows his clothes to get wrinkled in the process.

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