Film - The Thomas Crown Affair

Thomas Crown

With all the film remakes, reboots and rehashes currently slated by Hollywood, Stuart Mulrain looks back at a remake that was, to his mind, better than the original with The Thomas Crown Affair...

“Do you wanna dance, or do you wanna dance?”

How do you remake a film starring one of cinemas icons of cool? A film that features arguably one of the sexiest scenes in cinema involving a game of chess? Well, you hire the then James Bond, the director of The Hunt For Red October and Die Hard and you take the sex appeal of that chess game and spread it throughout the entire film.

Before we get stuck into looking at John McTiernan/Pierce Brosnan’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, we should first address the Norman Jewison/Steve McQueen original and my (brief) thoughts on it. To many, the original is a classic piece of cinema, oozing style, cool and sex appeal – particularly from its leading couple. There is no denying that a lot of this is true and perhaps if I had discovered this film first I might hold it in a higher regard myself. Unfortunately I came to it after watching (and falling in love with) the remake and while I kind of enjoyed it, I found the original to be quite dull and plodding in comparison.

The 1968 version sees McQueen’s Thomas Crown organise two armed bank robberies (the second of which may or may not have involved some people being shot – the film never definitively says one way or the other) which leads him to being investigated by Faye Dunaway’s Vicki Anderson. After a game of cat and mouse that sees her and Crown fall for each other, she eventually betrays him and finds herself abandoned by him for her betrayal. The 1999 version sees Brosnan’s Crown steal a painting (which is a little easier to get behind than an armed bank robbery or two), which leads to him being investigated by Rene Russo’s Catherine Banning and the ensuing game of cat and mouse that follows.

Before we get into all that though, allow me to set the scene for you. By the summer of 1999 Brosnan was two films into his time as James Bond (with his third just a few months away) and to many fans and critics, was being hailed as the saviour of the franchise, after the mixed reaction to the two Dalton outings (two of my favourite Bond films by the way) and forced exile into the world of legal dispute limbo. It’s easy in the Daniel Craig era, to look back on Brosnan’s time in the tux with scorn (particularly when Brosnan himself starts saying that he wasn’t very good in the role), but there is no denying that he was the right man for the job at the right time.

Brosnan was the perfect blend of what had come before, mixing the key elements of the four previous Bonds in a way that introduced the character to a new audience whilst still appealing to the existing Bond fans. He was exactly what EoN wanted and needed at the time and to his credit and detriment, he gave them and the majority of the audience exactly what they wanted. The downside of this is that we never really got to see what Brosnan’s Bond would have been had he been given a bit more freedom to add his own take on the character.

At least, that was the case within the confines of his four Bond films.

Pierce Brosnan

Away from the franchise, Brosnan has seemed to rebel against the character, offering up extreme versions in the likes of The Matador, The Tailor Of Panama, November Man and Survivor, all of which seem to offer various elseworld-esque takes on Fleming’s character. Whilst interesting when viewed with this in mind, I would argue that the best example of what Brosnan’s Bond could’ve been is in 1999’s Thomas Crown (although there is also a school of thought that would see it as the best film about Bruce Wayne had he never grown up with the drive to be Batman).

Given his icon status, stepping into shoes once filled by Steve McQueen is a bold move for any actor or actress. Admittedly, you could argue that it does depend on which of McQueen’s shoes one is trying to step into and it’s fair to say that – unlike a Frank Bullitt – Thomas Crown is arguably the least ‘Steve McQueen’ of the iconic characters McQueen has played. It’s to Brosnan’s credit that he not only steps into those shoes, he ends up owning them, leaving you with the feeling that they were always Brosnan’s shoes and McQueen was just there to break them in for him.

Part of the problem with the original and McQueen’s portrayal is that Crown is a pretty hard character to like at times and in the wrong hands, that could’ve been the case here. Looking beyond the fact that he’s a billionaire who steals a painting because he’s bored (something I’m sure we can all relate to), he manipulates the emotions of our female lead whilst being something of a smug bastard about it. In Brosnan’s performance we get all of that, but he finds the right balance between smug charm, smooth sex appeal and playboy likability whilst redeeming the character by showing us the cracks that give his Crown a vulnerability.

That vulnerability is brought out in the form of Russo’s Catherine Banning, a character who is every bit Crown’s equal and - in many ways - his better and the film definitely succeeds on the strength of its casting, with both roles equally as important as each other. Given what is required of the Banning role, it would be easy to see a studio executive insist on casting a young twenty-something in the part opposite Brosnan. It has never stopped the Bond producers after all (just imagine how much better The World Is Not Enough could’ve been had Dr. Christmas Jones been played by an actress closer in age to Brosnan), so it is to the people behind this films credit that they saw the potential of not only casting an actress in her 40’s, but allowing her to be strong, smart and sexy.


Like the original, Banning’s investigation into Crown is a game of cat and mouse that sees the attraction between the two lead to them falling for each other. Like the original, it is a relationship based around the dance of two opposites trying to work out if they can trust each other and ultimately find a happy ever after with each other. It’s in the relationship between the two leads where the film truly shines, which is down to the chemistry between Russo and Brosnan, Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay and McTiernan’s solid and stylish direction.

Like any film, there are elements that don’t make sense or are never explained (just how does the briefcase Crown puts the painting in work and how the hell did he steal that second painting), but I would argue that the film is the better for not giving you those answers and allowing you to come to your own conclusions if you wish to. For some, the decision to deviate from the originals down beat ending and allow the couple to fly off to a happy ending together was a letdown, as was the very last line of the film in which Banning tells Crown that if he ever tries anything like that again, she would break both his arms. As Crown never breaks an arm in the film, this caused some confusion and it’s a fair point. The line is actually a reference to the figure in the ‘Son Of Man’ painting (which is featured quite prominently in the film) who has an arm that appears to be broken. If you don’t get the joke (and I’ll freely admit that I only got it after I’d read up on the painting itself after the film) it is an odd line, but it’s also a nice line that playfully – for better or worse – puts the idea of a sequel into your mind, without making you feel like it’s being forced upon you (something most films with a franchise in its eye are guilty of).

For many years, the idea of a sequel was in the air, with Brosnan in particular keen to make it happen. It’s never been clear if Russo would’ve returned, but McTiernan was onboard for a long time (with a brief spell in prison leading to a couple of other directors rumoured to be attached) and the film seemed like it was set to be a remake of Topkapi. McTiernan also told Empire that he had written a script for the sequel whilst in prison entitled Thomas Crown And The Missing Lioness. Brosnan himself seemingly scratched the sequel itch by playing a master thief in Brett Ratner’s 2004 film After The Sunset, although it obviously didn’t work (and watching the film you can see why) as Brosnan continued to pursue the idea of a Thomas Crown 2.

A sequel seems less likely now that MGM is looking at remaking the film again, with their sights set on Creed star Michael B. Jordan for the role of Thomas Crown. As with the proposed sequel, I don’t really want or need a remake, but I approach the idea with a cautious optimism and will definitely be adding it to my must watch list if and when it comes out. For me, Crown has always been a 40 something man who has achieved everything he wants in his life and climbed so high that nothing excites or thrills him anymore. The idea of seeing Crown as a younger character and how the makers might approach that character and the crime he might commit has an undeniable appeal but - for me - Jordan (or whoever they end up casting) has huge shoes to fill in the wake of Brosnan’s performance.

Overall, The Thomas Crown Affair is an adult thriller that isn’t ashamed of or afraid to appeal to a smart, adult audience. This is after all a film that hints heavily at its plot twist in the opening credits.

Images - IMDb