The Thomas Crown Affair

  • Title:  The Thomas Crown Affair
  • Director:  John McTiernan
  • Date:  1999
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Romance, Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Faye Dunaway
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Regret is usually a waste of time. As is gloating. Have you figured out what you’re gonna’ say to your board when they learn that you paid me $30 Million more than others were offering?” – Thomas Crown

“It’s obvious that you like men, but you never keep any of them around very long, either.” – Thomas Crown
“Oh, well, men make women messy.” – Catherine

“You really think there’s happy ever after for people like us?” – Catherine

The Thomas Crown Affair is a fun, romantic, romp – in both senses of the word – romance. Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) is a very successful and rich businessman who has made his multi-billion dollar fortune by acquiring other businesses, then selling them off. The realities of such a source of income aren’t explored – basically, he’s rich, successful, lonely, and bored.

Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) is a highly successful insurance investigator and bounty hunter. She makes her considerable fortune collecting a portion of the recovery fee from high stakes art theft recovery.

Michael McCann (Denis Leary) is a cop, who – we find at the end of the film – would rather work homicides, or help abused women and kids then worry about a multi-million dollar art theft.

The film opens with Crown starring at a painting of haystacks in the Impressionist wing of a large unnamed art museum in New York. He apparently does this a lot, as one of the museum guards recognizes him and the two also make small talk. Meanwhile, the loading dock workers are surprised when a large crate is delivered. They are expecting an Egyptian sarcophagus, but instead a large Greek horse sculpture was delivered instead. Soon, a group of men break out of the horse and attempt to steal paintings from the museum. They are caught, but an investigation quickly indicates that a Monet, worth $100,000 million dollars is now missing from the museum. The Monet will be the McGuffin of the film – it also brings together the main characters.

Leary’s Mike McCann, is a tough, wisecracking, swearing, New York City cop who would rather investigate a murder or do anything else other than investigate an art theft. But he’s called in, and his initial sweep of the Impressionist wing, isn’t successful – either in finding the missing Monet, nor in understanding how the crime occurred or what the thieves were trying to accomplish. But even Mike, appreciates the slightly twisted humor of the Trojan Horse being used to gain access to the museum.

During his initial investigation, Catherine arrives. Much more experienced in investigating art thefts – she corrects nearly every assumption Mike’s made. They spark some. It’s Catherine, who realizes that the showy and unsuccessful attempted theft was a distraction, so the Monet could be stolen by someone else – and she and Mike immediately suspect Crown.

The resulting cat-and-mouse game has Catherine and Mike attempting to catch Crown and get the Monet back. This is complicated by Crown’s romantic pursuit of Catherine. Mike sees Crown’s interest as a way for him to keep her off-balance so he doesn’t get caught. Mike is also jealous of Crown – not necessarily simply his money and success, but he would like to become romantically involved with Catherine himself – though he knows she wouldn’t be interested in a plain, blue-collar, cop like him, especially when she could easily have a rich, successful, businessman like Crown.

Crown romantically pursues Catherine – dancing with her in a club, taking her home for a steamy session of sex, taking her for a flying lesson in his glider, and then taking her away for a weekend to his Caribbean Island get away. Their romance is intercut with the investigation by both the police and Catherine of the art theft. On Crown’s side, his romance is intercut with sessions with his psychologist, played by Faye Dunaway. She points out his deep distrust of women.

Trust will be a re-occurring theme of the film. Can two extremely rich people really trust someone new? Especially when that person may have a reason to not be trusted? Catherine has trouble trusting Crown because not only did he probably steal the Monet – but he may be only using her affection to get away with the crime. For his part, Thomas Crown has reason to not trust Catherine – after all, she could find evidence of his illegal activities – and have him arrested.

The Thomas Crown Affair  is stylish, smart, bold, romantic, and steamy. The music is wonderful, though my (very cheap) copy seems to be missing some of the music. Setting the story firmly in the art world gives it a gloss that a similar romantic film in another setting wouldn’t have. There’s some wonderful direction of the initial theft, and Crown’s crazy plan to return the Monet – let’s just say, The Purloined Letter, and leave it at that. Brosnan is sexy, and plays his smart, rags-to-riches character well. Russo is also sexy and smart.

I enjoyed seeing this film again. It’s more of a romance than a caper film – the stolen Monet really is no more than a McGuffin. Russo has excellent chemistry with both Crown and Mike. And the film has the last minute twist-that-isn’t-really-unexpected that works for this type of romantic film. Overall, it’s a great role for Brosnan, and I wish he would make more of this type of romantic film.

The Thomas Crown Affair is a remake of the film of the same name from 1968 starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. In my opinion, and I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with me – the modern film is better. Personally, I really dislike Steve McQueen – he gives me the creeps, and he’s so icy and cold. McQueen’s the type of actor I constantly expect in his roles to turn out to be a serial killer or something, and I just cannot watch him. Dunaway is also a cold actress, and I just can’t see her playing a romantic role well (though in the 1960s, icy blondes were popular in romantic and suspense films.) Brosnan is much better as a romantic hero – and he gives Crown the depth of someone who is emotionally closed off, and what that costs him. Russo is the exact opposite of cold. Leary adds to the plot, giving the 1999 film a much more modern feeling.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 3 out of 5 (Slightly predictable)
Next film:  The Three Musketeers (1993)

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The Ref

  • Title:  The Ref
  • Director:  Ted Demme
  • Date:  1994
  • Studio:  Touchstone
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Christine Barenski
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Great, I hijack my f…ing parents!” — Gus (Leary)

“From now on the only person who gets to yell is me, Why? Because I have a gun, OK? People with guns can do whatever they want. Married people without guns, for instance, you — Do not get to YELL! Why? No guns! No guns, no yelling.” — Gus

“Eat, don’t annoy me, it’s Christmas.”  — Connie

“I’m in hell. Connecticut is the fifth ring of hell!”  — Gus

The Ref opens with a series of shots of Christmas in a Connecticut suburb. Everything looks perfect, there’s even snow and children looking into shop window displays. But then we meet Caroline and Lloyd Cheshire, who are seeing a marriage counselor. Their squabbling and put downs of each other are so bad they annoy their marriage counselor. We also see a cat burglar who is trying to break into a safe in one of the huge homes in the small town/suburb. The break-in goes wrong — first he’s sprayed with cat urine, then he sets off the alarm, and the cops are alerted.

Gus, as we later learn, is stranded without an getaway car, since his partner was frightened by the alarms and ran off, so he takes a woman hostage in a convenience store, looking for a ride. He, and the Cheshires never expected what would result.

Like all good screwball comedies, from a simple plot – a criminal trying to escape, events just snowball and the film is extremely funny. Most of the film takes place in the Cheshires’ house, with a few cutaways to the incompetent police manhunt for the criminal. (For example, the police chief, who is competent, finds a surveillance videotape of Gus from the robbery. He shows it to his men once, but is interrupted by a phone call. When he returns, they’ve recorded a James Stewart movie over the surveillance footage.) The Cheshires, with their bickering, arguing, and put downs, drive Gus nuts. When their extended family arrive for Christmas dinner – the family politics get even worse. Yet, in the midst of the chaos – Gus’ presence allows everyone to get things off their chest. When Lloyd, who seems to be the calmest one in the group, finally explodes – it’s great. And the honesty, not to mention Gus’ prodding, might have, oddly enough, saved their marriage. One can see Caroline and Gus giving up their “safe and comfortable” life, moving to California, and opening another restaurant (closing their restaurant several years earlier had started a series of events that was now bringing them to brink of divorce). Meanwhile, their son, a budding criminal himself, may have been scared straight by Gus – who honestly tells him he doesn’t want that type of  life.

The film is laugh out loud funny. The characters seem very real, if a little over the top. The sarcastic dialogue is underscored by the sarcastic and ironic nature of the entire film:  this little Connecticut suburb may look perfect, but everyone is hiding secrets, everyone is nasty and mean, and no one treats anyone else with any respect whatsoever. There is a lot of swearing and bad language, and some adult concepts as well. However, the film is brilliant. Denis Leary is incredibly funny, and brings out the best of everyone around him. I have seen The Ref more than twice, usually with many years between seeing it, and every time the film surprises me with it’s fresh humor. Also, The Ref has some heart to it, that’s extremely unexpected. Caroline and Lloyd are already in marriage counseling – yet Gus, as raw as he may be, is a better marriage counselor for the couple than Dr. Wong, the counselor they see at the beginning of the film. Gus also manages to get everyone in the family to honestly confront the issues they have with each other, rather than quietly ignoring them and pretending to be nice. This truly is a brilliant comedy!

Recommendation:  See it! (Not for young children)
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Roberta