Paced with the same breezy air of unencumbered playfulness with which its titular billionaire thief swipes Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, John McTiernan’s competent reworking of Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair retains the original film’s key element—the seductive tête-à-tête between two defensive creatures, typified here by a thief and an insurance investigator—while refitting the film’s frothy plot for our modern age of unhinged excess.
Indeed, when he’s not planning elaborate and eloquent capers, finance titan Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan in for Steve McQueen) spends his days making six-figure golf bets with elderly popinjays, overtaking corporate dynasties and sinking luxury boats “because he likes the splash.” At least that’s the way Catherine Banning (Rene Russo in for Faye Dunaway) puts it when she’s brought into aide the investigation into the Monet theft, led by a downtrodden Manhattan detective, played with admirable restraint by Denis Leary. Neither willing to turn down a worthy foe, Crown and Banning play and deceive each other with charisma to spare, making their eventual fall into bed all but preordained.
Inevitability, as it turns out, is a huge factor in how Mr. McTiernan’s film ultimately succeeds, and how it limits itself: The games of deceit are evenly spaced out, the sex scene lands right where it should, and the “betrayal” fizzles out right in time for the climactic returning of the Monet to the museum. Yes, the film is predictable in structure, which only makes the ease and efficiency of McTiernan’s form and the nuances of the script, written by Kurt Wimmer and Leslie Dixon, all the more distinguished, what one could even call classy. In fact, with the exception of the slick swing of Tom Priestley Jr.‘s cinematography and that absurdly elongated sex scene, McTiernan’s caper is a remarkably old-fashioned entertainment, right down to Bill Conti’s buoyant, piano-driven score.
The director’s technical proficiency succeeds in creating a sure tone of leisure and focuses the viewer on the two slinking animals at the film’s center; Crown likens Banning and himself to “porcupines mating” while speaking with his psychiatrist (Dunaway, providing the film with a Greek chorus of sorts). Though no one will confuse Brosnan and Russo for Dunaway and McQueen, the two actors give fine performances that are lively and unerringly sexy, whereas many of the performances in Crown‘s cinematic progeny could be best described as crude and erratic. Notice should be made of how Brosnan imbues Crown with the sort of sincere archness that was often absent in his James Bond, but attention must be paid to Russo. An underrated actress, she frolics around Crown’s isolated Martinique villa topless mere minutes before plotting his takedown and never rings false; she exudes the same ease as the film but covers a far more expansive landscape emotionally. Her careful seguidilla with Brosnan makes what may have simply been a shallow romp into something just a bit more encouraging and entertaining than its modern ilk.
The New York autumn which makes the prominent setting for John McTiernan's film is captured with rich color tones thanks to an immaculate 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, framed in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio; the trip to Martinique allows brighter, tropical colors to pop. Contrast is even in the more shadowy compositions, highlighting the insular warmth of Crown's city manor and restaurants. The audio mix, like the visuals, is beautifully balanced between Bill Conti's score, spikes of samba and jazz, dialogue, and the ambience of the city. It may not have the bells and whistles of a more visceral caper film but it's hard to imagine a more clear and elegant presentation.
A DVD copy packaged with the Blu-ray offers a playful but only moderately insightful audio commentary from director McTiernan.
An elegant caper film bereft of car chases or explosions, John McTiernan's efficient, if inscrutably slight, remake of The Thomas Crown Affair arrives on Blu-Ray confident in its own sleek presentation and the chemistry of its central, seductive diptych.