Most of the time, the term "date movie" is just a transparent synonym for a chick flick, vaguely camouflaging a film's feminine slant so guys won't feel so emasculated when they sit down to watch it. The moniker doesn't really fool anybody, but if it can salve a man's ego and make a few more bucks for the studio, then everyone walks away happy. A true date movie, though, should appeal equally to both genders, supplying enough action, intrigue, and sex for him, while giving her plenty of romance, style, and emotion. It's a tricky formula to concoct, but the 1999 remake of 'The Thomas Crown Affair' gets the heady mix just right, pushing all the appropriate buttons to stimulate both the minds and libidos of men and women alike. (It sure helped my weekend when I saw it with my wife on a romantic getaway during its initial theatrical release…)
Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo make a smoking hot team – physically, intellectually, and emotionally – and their characters are so strong, self-assured, yet deceptively vulnerable, they raise the audience's temperature as well. No doubt about it, men want to be Thomas Crown (Brosnan) – obscenely rich, powerful, playful, cultured, and a master of seduction – and they want to bed Catherine Banning (Russo), the dazzlingly sexy insurance investigator determined to nail Crown for the ingenious theft of a priceless Monet painting from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Women, on the other hand, want to be Catherine Banning – smart, glamorous, impeccably dressed and coiffed, proud of their body and unafraid to show it off – and they want to bed the suave, hunky Thomas Crown. Where the two sexes find common ground is in their desire to replicate the pair's sly, steamy mating dance…literally and figuratively. Rarely does a romantic movie level the sexual playing field, but 'The Thomas Crown Affair' does it with ease, and that's why it's been a couples favorite for the past decade.
Why would a billionaire businessman steal treasured works of art? (Hint: It's not for the money.) And why would a woman who's spent her life busting criminals allow herself to fall for one of her suspects? (Hint: It's not to satisfy her inner bad girl.) At its core, 'The Thomas Crown Affair' is all about indulging appetites, taking chances, breaking free from the constraints of ordered existences, letting go of baggage, and embracing life with abandon. It's an adult fantasy, pure and simple, populated by beautiful people and played out in gorgeous locales, and director John McTiernan bathes it all in a slick, elegant veneer that perfectly fits the material. Who knew the man behind 'Predator,' 'Die Hard,' and 'Last Action Hero' could tame his heavy hand and exhibit such a light, sophisticated touch? Though no one would ever call 'The Thomas Crown Affair' deep – in fact, it's about as shallow as the kiddie pool at a swanky resort – McTiernan, just like his crafty characters, hoodwinks us into believing the story's a bit more substantive than it is. Instead of keeping us at arm's length, dangling Crown's intoxicating world of wealth in front of us like a carrot, he thrusts us into it, and the crackling screenplay by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer adds appropriate dry wit and necessary swagger to the proceedings. Lush cinematography and a snappy yet lyrical score by Bill Conti ('Rocky') pull the package together, and help make what should have been a rather breezy yet forgettable film quite memorable indeed.
This is a classic cat-and-mouse tale, yet there's very little subterfuge clouding the chase, which makes the moves and countermoves in this high-stakes chess match that much more enticing. Crown and Catherine put their cards on the table from the get-go, and while a few unexpected twists and turns crop up along the way, watching the two one-up and dress-down each other in plain sight is great fun. Attitude reigns supreme, and both Brosnan and especially Russo flaunt plenty of it, but never to the film's detriment. Cut from the same mold as 007 and Remington Steele (one almost expects Brosnan to introduce himself with the line, "My name is Crown; Thomas Crown."), Crown is the type of debonair role Brosnan could play in his sleep, but he's never lazy, exuding just the right amount of strength, mystery, and movie star magnetism.
And Russo? I almost needed to call the fire department to douse the flames pouring out of my TV! A role model for middle-aged women everywhere, the 45-year-old actress ignites the screen not just with her stunning facial features and beautifully toned body (how many stars her age would have the confidence to do their own nude scenes?), but also with her sharp mind and tough-yet-tender demeanor. Maybe it’s because I'm a guy, but from the moment Russo enters the picture, she owns the cinema canvas, grabbing our attention and refusing to relinquish it until the final fadeout. The underrated star has filed plenty of fine performances throughout her career, but Catherine Banning is arguably her best piece of work.
Denis Leary also makes a marvelous impression as a jaded, bemused cop (a character he all but cut and pasted into a shortlived but classic little cult TV series the following year), and in a bit of inspired casting, Faye Dunaway, who played Russo's part in the 1968 original opposite Steve McQueen, maximizes her glorified cameo as Crown's sassy shrink.
The remake of 'The Thomas Crown Affair' ups the sexual ante and, by changing the heist locale from a sterile bank to a venerable art museum, breeds more elegance and élan. The added element of forgery that creeps into the plot also heightens the air of deception swirling about the characters, as they struggle to abandon suspicion and learn to trust. Before you find your soul mate, the film tells us, you first have to find your soul. And it's not easy to embrace something you've made a habit of shunning.
As someone who generally abhors remakes, I have to hand it to McTiernan and company for simultaneously honoring the source and taking it in a new, exciting, contemporary direction. That's not easy to do, but like its cunning hero, 'The Thomas Crown Affair' finds a way, and at its conclusion elicits the same admiring response spoken by Catherine Banning herself: "Oh, that's good."
For a film as slick and elegant as 'The Thomas Crown Affair,' only a top-flight transfer can do the visuals justice, and on the whole, this 1080p effort from MGM/Fox scores well. It appears the studio has used the same master as the DVD for this Blu-ray release, and the high-def rendering sports enhanced clarity, sharper lines, a bit warmer color, and a crisper overall feel than its standard-def counterpart. Some errant nicks and specks remain, but you really have to search for them, and though some shots look a tad bright or a shade soft, such incidents are thankfully isolated and don't detract from the whole. Just a whisper of grain adds texture to the picture, and solid contrast often provides some potent high-def pop.
Colors, especially blue hues, are quite strong and lush, reflecting Crown's sumptuous lifestyle, while inky blacks lend the image marvelous weight and presence. Fleshtones remain natural and stable throughout, and though background details can sometimes be sketchy, close-ups are crystal clear. We can almost taste Russo's shiny lip gloss, and every chiseled feature of the two stars is well defined. More positives include the lack of any banding, edge enhancement, or mosquito noise. All in all, 'The Thomas Crown Affair' has never looked better, and while this 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encode isn't a huge step up from the previous DVD, it's still a worthy upgrade – a good, clean transfer that honors its source and provides a pleasant viewing experience.
MGM includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that occasionally lives up to expectations, but often remains maddeningly bland. The stingy use of surround effects limits the film's reach, but when the rears do kick into gear, most notably during a spirited boating sequence, they catapult us into the action…and make us pine for more frequent multi-channel bursts. Some ambient bleed brightens up a few sequences, but never to the extent the teeming cityscape and bustling museum interiors require, and while the outdoor scenes in Martinique fare best in this regard, they rarely exude the proper amount of weight. Some decent stereo separation up front, however, adds sufficient aural interest, with seamless pans lending the sound a natural, easygoing flow. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and Bill Conti's jazz-laced, rhythmically robust score suits the material to a T, echoing the story's playful and romantic accents, and possessing both solid fidelity and a warm, room-filling presence. (Make sure you hang around for the closing credits and listen to the silky smooth 'Windmills of Your Mind' – winner of the 1968 Best Original Song Oscar – sung here by Sting.) Though a big step up from the DVD's 5.1 Dolby Surround track, this lossless rendering seems to hold back far more than it gives.
No supplements whatsoever adorn this Blu-ray, which in itself is a disgrace. (Is it so tough to tack on a trailer or import an old audio commentary?) Instead, MGM/Fox decides to take the cheap/lazy way out and dump its surplus of archaic 'Thomas Crown Affair' DVDs into this package, giving us a double-sided disc with both widescreen and full screen versions of the film. A commentary track by director John McTiernan is housed on the DVD, but what self-respecting high-def aficionado is going to pop in a standard-def DVD and watch a subpar image just to listen to the director's remarks? You'd either have to be president of the John McTiernan fan club, a blood relative, or deranged 'Thomas Crown Affair' groupie to do such a thing. And while I'd love to tell you whether McTiernan's monologue is good, bad, or indifferent, or worth an investment of your valuable time, I just can't do it in good conscience. I review Blu-ray discs, not DVDs, and unless the content – be it in 1080p or 480i – is housed on a Blu-ray, it won't be evaluated by me. Get with the program, studios!
'The Thomas Crown Affair' is the quintessential date movie - sleek, romantic, intriguing, oh-so-sexy, and a lot of fun for both men and women. Fine art, fine dialogue, fine locations, and, of course, fine physiques make this game of cat-and-mouse intoxicating from start to finish, and a cut above most remakes. MGM/Fox provides a good-looking transfer and solid audio to stoke our senses, but drops the ball big time in the extras department. Still, fans shouldn't hesitate to upgrade (especially at the bargain price of $11.99), and those who haven't yet experienced this amorous escapade are in for a treat. Recommended.