Every time I watch Thomas Crown, I wonder if there’s some magical explanation for all John McTiernan’s other films (except Die Hard, which is, too, singular). Because The Thomas Crown Affair, as I love saying, is the last great utterly mainstream film. But there’s something more… the tone of the film, the Bill Conti score, the editing… it’s completely different but McTiernan knew what he was doing as he was making it. It’s clear from some of the longer sequences–the glider, for instance–but also from shorter ones, like Rene Russo despondent in the rain. McTiernan knew what he was putting together here.
But Thomas Crown is also–there’s a lot to get to, I’m hoping I remember everything–a New York movie. It’s not a New York movie in the sense a native made it, it doesn’t have that familiar excitement about the city, but it has the fan’s excitement, which makes me wonder if McTiernan just really liked shooting the third Die Hard there. The film has two major reminders of the original, Faye Dunaway’s excellent cameo (it’s the first time I can remember her having so much fun with a role) and the repeated uses of the song from the original (before the end credits Sting cover), and the original was not one of the famous 1970s New York movies, but McTiernan uses the city to–visually–set some of the film’s tone.
I’m thinking I should get Brosnan and Russo out of the way. I think, though I’m not a hundred percent sure (I’m remembering telling my mom about reading this tidbit), MGM was–back around 2000–thinking about a Thin Man remake with Brosnan and Russo. Saying it would work is about all I need to say about their performances and their chemistry. The film sets itself up to fail if the two of them don’t click, but also if Russo can’t pull off, essentially, becoming the lead in the second half. She and McTiernan handle the refocusing beautifully.
Since Russo does become the protagonist, it’s very important her supporting cast is helpful. Frankie Faison is great and the little moments and the exceptionally fast establishing of he and Russo’s camaraderie is fantastic. Denis Leary has the film’s least flashy role and gives an incredibly sturdy and deeply likable performance.
Both Leary and Faison’s characters raise some questions about the screenplay, which–as I recall–split duties. Leslie Dixon handled the relationship between Russo and Brosnan while Kurt Wimmer took over the rest (the heists and the pursuit). Either someone came in and did a fantastic evening draft or… it’s a seamless script, if it truly was written in that manner.
The Thomas Crown Affair is hard to easily sum up because it’s a confident success. McTiernan doesn’t make a single misstep–more, he makes a great move every chance he gets. It’s wonderful.
Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, based on a story by Alan Trustman; director of photography, Tom Priestley; edited by John Wright; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Bruno Rubeo; produced by Pierce Brosnan and Beau St. Clair; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring Pierce Brosnan (Thomas Crown), Rene Russo (Catherine Banning), Denis Leary (Michael McCann), Ben Gazzara (Andrew Wallace), Frankie Faison (Paretti), Fritz Weaver (John Reynolds), Charles Keating (Golchan), Esther Canadas (Anna), Mark Margolis (Knutzhorn) and Faye Dunaway (Psychiatrist).