Review by Rich Watts
Posted on 14 February 2005
Source MGM DVD (R2)
An utterly stylish and compelling runaround heist movie, the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair finds Steve McQueen nonchalantly living up to his epithet as the “King of Cool.” McQueen plays a bored tycoon for whom careering about in a dune buggy, hand-gliding above an adoring female companion and riding horseback for a speedy game of polo are not enough. Instead, he becomes the mastermind behind a bank heist. Though not in need of the money, the adrenaline rush of the crime propels Thomas Crown through his otherwise “normal” life until insurance investigator Faye Dunaway turns up on the scene and compromises the scheme with romance.
The Thomas Crown Affair is a sumptuous movie, containing the kind of cinematography and attention to colour that Steven Soderbergh successfully acknowledged in Ocean’s 11 (and 12). From the start, as the striking lyrics of “Windmills Of Your Mind” introduce the credits, The Thomas Crown Affair exudes a confidence and class that immediately suggest a world centred around one individual—a man in control of the film’s every detail and every possible outcome.
Throughout The Thomas Crown Affair we also have split screen images which, amongst other functions, captures the pace and excitement of a heist, offering different perspectives as well as propelling the action from location to location. The technique encapsulates the excitement Thomas Crown himself must be experiencing whilst he plans his crimes and outwits the chasing police. The split screen also offers blurred frames, which represent the intrigue engendered by Crown’s actions: what motivates him is far from clear. Slowly, it is hoped, things will come into focus; in this case, hoping is all that can be done for the man at the centre remains an enigma throughout.
McQueen is recorded as having said: “In my own mind, I’m not sure that acting is something for a grown man to be doing.” Presumably, driving fast cars and flying aeroplanes were more the activities he had in mind for grown men to be concentrating on. As Thomas Crown, McQueen followed the playboy lifestyle on-screen many in the audience suspected he actually lived. Debonair, handsome and exceptionally cool, Thomas Crown epitomised the alpha-male, the kind of man that can make—of all things—a game of chess a fine technique in seduction.
It is fitting, of course, that under the supervision of Die Hard director John McTiernan, Pierce Brosnan took over the role of Thomas Crown for the superior 1999 remake. For what better individual could fill the boots of a charming playboy than the man who had already filled the boots of the ultimate charming playboy, James Bond? The only difference between the two being that 007 was the Good Guy. Yet Crown is hardly a criminal; indeed, one suspects the men in any audience wouldn’t mind being Thomas Crown whilst the women, to continue the saying, wouldn’t mind being with him. Whichever the preference, it is a fair reflection of the super cool hero that was Steve McQueen.