By Marc Bernardin
Updated January 07, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

So you want to be a master thief? You’ve heard about the perks—a life of danger, adrenaline, and intrigue; all the money you can spend; all the freedom you could want; no schedule to keep but your own; no boss; no dress code; no taxes.

But it’s not just a matter of wanting, and, unfortunately for those seeking illegal enlightenment, there are no college classes and no correspondence courses. To gain an insight into what it takes to be one of the rare few who can live life on their own terms, I suggest you look to the heist films of director John McTiernan: The Thomas Crown Affair, The Hunt for Red October (1990, Paramount, 135 mins., PG, also on DVD), and Die Hard (1988, Fox, 132 mins., R, also on DVD). As one of Hollywood’s most respected, intelligent action filmmakers — hell, for years every other movie was described as ”Die Hard in a…” — he’s in a unique position to reveal just what you’ll need to be a modern man of mischief.

Have an Accent It’s amazing how much respect people will give you if you’ve got even a whiff of a foreign demeanor. It works for Pierce Brosnan in the new-to-video The Thomas Crown Affair. Sure, he’s a billionaire financier who can crush the average mortal with his checkbook, but it’s the Irish/British brogue that makes this moonlighting art thief so imposing. Sean Connery speaks with that awesome Sean Connery accent — which is to say a mumbly Scottish — no matter who he plays, even if it’s Marko Ramius, the larcenous Soviet submarine captain of The Hunt for Red October (he trotted out the same accent for Entrapment, in which he portrayed, yes, an aging master thief). And Die Hard‘s Alan Rickman plays Hans Gruber, the rare German pseudo-terrorist with a British lilt. Perhaps it’s the nonchalance, the oh-I’ll-get-around-to-fleecing-you-when-I’m-good-and-ready insinuation of a European intonation that makes it the perfect criminal accessory.

Have a GQ-Ready Wardrobe Nothing drives cops crazier than a sharp-dressed man. Why? Because they figure that anyone who’s got enough money to have merchants come to his skyscraper and measure him for hand-tailored suits, like Thomas Crown, or who gets his threads at the same shop where Arafat buys his, like Hans Gruber, would have no reason to commit grand theft anything. Besides, are you gonna detain Connery when he’s wearing that super-suave, jet-black Russian military uniform and his good toupee?

Have a Fabulous Objective If you’re going to be a master thief, steal something masterful. Crown had his eye on a $100 million Monet, while Gruber was willing to kill an office building full of hostages for $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds. Ramius, however, outdoes them all: He planned to take his own motherland for a billion-dollar Soviet nuclear submarine.

Have a Topflight Adversary If, as they say, you can judge a person by his enemies, then you can’t really be a class act without a serious hound on your tail. Who would Robin Hood be without the Sheriff of Nottingham hot on his heels? Of course, Crown made the vital mistake of falling in love with his pursuer, the smug, fashionable Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), an insurance investigator who shared his love of the good life. Ramius also found an ally in his adversary Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), the CIA analyst who sniffed out the renegade sub driver’s daring plan to defect. And then there’s John McClane (Bruce Willis), the testy New York City cop who went and got himself invited to the Christmas party Gruber decided to crash and burn. Sure, if there were no opponents, a life of crime would be a much easier life indeed, but there’s no fun where there’s no chase.

For our nefarious purposes, judging these films was not a matter of weighing cinematic quality but of looking at their usefulness as teaching aids. Specifically, who got away with it? The Thomas Crown Affair: B+ The Hunt for Red October: A Die Hard: A-

The Thomas Crown Affair
MGM 113 Minutes
Rated R
Also on DVD

The Thomas Crown Affair (Movie - 1999)

  • Movie
  • R
  • John McTiernan