We gave it a B+
Brash, preposterous, synthetic, and very sexy, The Thomas Crown Affair is a romp of romantic larceny built out of spare parts we’ve seen in countless other films. There’s a high-tech heist; a ”hot” Latin dance number in which Rene Russo’s Catherine, clad in see-through Halston, lets Pierce Brosnan’s Crown know exactly what he’s up against; and a climactic game of will-he-or-won’t-he (escape the law and carry her off, that is). What keeps the film aloft and twirling is its blithe, throwaway foxiness — the way it shrugs at the movieness of these caper shenanigans and, at the same time, treats them with freshly minted innocence. Brosnan, playing this Wall Street paragon who only pretends to follow the rules, never tips his hand — he doesn’t let you catch Crown behaving deviously — but the actor’s faintly inscrutable Euro jet-set charm has more spark here than it does in the Bond pictures, where his gestures can seem too small and refined to compete with the fireball action around him.
The movie is, of course, a remake of the 1968 Steve McQueenFaye Dunaway thriller confection, a picture remembered mostly for its Michel Legrand theme song (”The Windmills of Your Mind”) and the fact that it was one of the first Hollywood films to make complex use of split-screen imagery. McQueen, looking as if he’d rather go to prison than crack a smile, played Crown like a dyspeptic Marine, and the fuzzy suspense plot dissolved into a lot of late-’60s sports-car-on-the-beach nonsense.
The new version, directed with a surprisingly light touch by John McTiernan (”Die Hard”), improves on the original in several ways, notably in the decision to change Crown from a bank robber to an art thief; his criminality is now more whimsical and more romantic. Russo, with her lush body and gorgeously arrogant jaw, finally has a role that allows her to tap the anger in her sensuality. There’s a leonine threat to her flirtations, yet she isn’t afraid to show amorous desperation as well. Catherine and Thomas have sweaty, thrashing sex (on the stairs, on a desk…), and for once an acrobatic movie love scene earns its passion.
”The Thomas Crown Affair” is arch without being cynical. Though it bears an obvious similarity to ”Entrapment,” it’s really the movie ”The Avengers” wanted to be. Brosnan and Russo make a nifty match as jaded fortysomething glamour-pusses who realize they’re just tired enough of using other people to try trusting one another. When Thomas flies Catherine around in a sleek white glider, zooming over acres of autumnal trees, we take it all in through her lovestruck eyes, and it’s a bubbly, transporting moment. By the end, we understand why Crown, who confesses his loneliness to a shrink (played by Dunaway), has such a dedicated fetish for museum heists. In its sneaky and offhanded way, ”The Thomas Crown Affair” is a tribute to the art of stealing beauty.