Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
MGM, widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], French DD 5.1, subtitles: English, French, double side-single layer, 36 chapters, rated R, 113 min., $24.98, street date 1/4/2000.
Directed by John McTiernan. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Frankie Faison, Faye Dunaway, Fritz Weaver.
Thrill-seeking billionaire Thomas Crown (Brosnan) loves nothing more than courting disaster - and winning! So when his world becomes too stiflingly "safe," he pulls off his boldest stunt ever: stealing a priceless painting - in broad daylight - from one of Manhattan's most heavily-guarded museums. But his post-heist excitement soon pales beside an even greater challenge: Catherine Banning (Russo). A beautiful insurance investigator hired to retrieve the artwork, Catherine's every bit as intelligent, cunning and hungry for adventure as he is. And just when Thomas realizes he's finally met his match, she skillfully leads him into a daring game of cat and mouse that's more intoxicating - and dangerous - than anything either of them has ever experienced before!
Let's hear it for the old folks! In the 1999 remake of 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair, stars Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo prove that one needn't be 22 and taut to spark some erotic chemistry on screen. These two work together spectacularly well and turn what could have been a mediocre project into something pretty exciting.
TTCA won't be mistaken for an all-time great film, but I felt that the movie cranks along at a good little pace. Director John McTiernan has never quite recaptured the magic touch that he showed in the original Die Hard, but with a number of strong films under his belt - such as The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard With a Vengeance, and even the much-maligned but actually pretty good Last Action Hero, he's proven himself to be a more than competent filmmaker.
TTCA does nothing to diminish that reputation. McTiernan moves the film deftly and makes it proceed at a pace just fast enough to keep our attention but not so quick that it becomes a blue. McTiernan doesn't seem able to deliver anything inspired or influential like Die Hard, but you can generally count on his name as an indication that a film will be professional and solid.
(By the way, I was surprised to discover that McTiernan's helmed only nine films, and that includes both of his 1999 efforts, TTCA and The 13th Warrior. Actually, I believe TTW was in the can long ago but some disputes over it help up its release. Second trivia note: McTiernan was born on January 8, a birthday shared with a number of other famous people: David Bowie, Elvis, and my friend Elizabeth!)
Pierce Brosnan's name above the title isn't nearly such a guarantee of quality, but he pulls out a good performance here, one of the few times he's done so in a movie that isn't the 87th sequel in a long-lasting series. Of course, I don't think he could have done this on his own; the presence of an electric Rene Russo adds greatly to the film's allure and charge. Russo literally has never been better than she is in TTCA, as she vamps up the screen.
One other strong performance comes from Denis Leary. For once he doesn't play an abrasive wiseguy. While his character definitely displays a "streetwise" edge, he's much more recognizably human than the average Leary persona. Actually, he's the main character with whom the audience can actually identify, especially those guys who've been unable to compete with a richer, better-looking romantic adversary! (Not that I'd be able to relate...)
But Leary's sweetly sympathetic performance is just the icing on the cake. No one will confuse The Thomas Crown Affair for a classic, but it's a nicely slick and freewheeling piece that kept me entertained and energized for most of its running time.
The Thomas Crown Affair appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and also features a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As you'd expect from such a recent release, the picture really looks quite lovely.
Sharpness consistently seems excellent with virtually no signs of softness at any time. However, this comes with a small price: as appears to be somewhat typical for MGM DVDs, a bit of extra edge enhancement takes place here, which results in some minor moiré effects and jagged edges. These aren't bad, though; I regarded them as a minor nuisance. Also in that category are the occasional but very rare print flaws; I noticed a few small scratches and blotches, but nothing terrible.
Colors look quite strong and seem consistently natural and vivid throughout the film. Black levels appear deep and rich, and shadow detail also seems very good; I had no difficulty discerning nuances in the darker scenes. Ultimately, TTCA has a few minor flaws but generally looks about the way I'd expect a 1999 film to appear.
TTCA also boasts a very nice and high-quality Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundstage seems appropriately active but not overly busy. It's a fairly subtle mix, really, since only a few scenes - such as Crown's sailing adventure and some flying segments - actively push the sonic envelope. The rest tends toward ambience, and the mix spreads the sounds about the five channels well. The front soundstage dominates, but not to an extreme; the rears remained active participants and helped surround the viewer with appropriate activity. No, it's not a "show-off" track, but it works well for its film.
The quality of the audio always seems excellent. Dialogue sounds full and natural and consistently appears easily intelligible. Effects are realistic and full, and music nicely displays the necessary qualities, especially in the rhythmic tapping of a main theme. I discerned absolutely no evidence of distortion at any time. The soundtrack for The Thomas Crown Affair serves the picture nicely.
While it won't qualify as a legitimate special edition, The Thomas Crown Affair boasts a few supplemental features. First up is an audio commentary from director John McTiernan. He offers some informative tidbits from time to time, enough to make the track worth a listen, but he also goes for intermittent periods with no speech at all. In this regard, the commentary is frustrating, though it's not the "gappiest" I've heard. McTiernan also possesses a rather slow and monotonous speaking voice as well, which makes the commentary tough going at times. Still, he gives enough useful material to reward the patient listener.
In addition to this commentary, the DVD offers trailers for both this film and the original 1968 version. Also, as is typical for MGM's work, the DVD's booklet contains some solid and interesting information about the project. And that's it! No, it's not much, but it beats the proverbial kick in the head.
While I can't compare the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair to the 1968 original (since I haven't seen the latter), I found the new one to be a pretty compelling and exciting cat and mouse kind of thriller. The DVD itself offers very strong picture and sound, and while the supplements are sparse, they are acceptable. I can't say I like the film enough to recommend purchase, but I won't try to sway you from that pursuit if you're interested. If not, it makes for a very good rental title.