Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 24, 2018)
A stylish thriller from 1968, The Thomas Crown Affair pairs Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway at their peak. At the film’s start, wealthy executive Thomas Crown (McQueen) orchestrates a major bank robbery.
After this crime, insurance investigator Vicki Anderson (Dunaway) gets on the case. This leads her to tangle with Crown – both professionally and romantically.
Just the year prior to Affair, director Norman Jewison led the Oscar-winning civil rights drama In the Heat of the Night. Obviously, the glib, sexy Affair offers a considerable departure from the earnest, politically progressive Night.
Both share one notable similarity, though, as they exist as clear products of their era. At no point during either Night or Affair do we see films that could exist in any other period – unless someone blatantly attempted to emulate the styles of the late 1960s, that is.
In the case of Night, this came partly from the way the movie treated its subject matter, as it adopted the tone one expects of civil rights material from that time: well-meaning, blunt and semi-strident. Affair seems less dated in terms of content, though the viewpoints of its era come through as well, mainly in the way the film views male and female dynamics.
Otherwise, Affair connects heavily to its period through stylistic elements – and I don’t just mean the clothes and hairstyles. From camera choices to editing to music, everything about Affair screams that it comes from the “swinging” part of the 60s.
Which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but I do think Affair feels more dated that I’d like. I can’t expect the movie to seem timeless, of course, but I’d like something a bit less indebted to its time frame than this ultra-60s effort.
Even without the era-related trappings, Affair doesn’t go much of anywhere. Despite the talents of Jewison behind the camera, it becomes a style-happy effort without a lot of real substance to make it work.
At its heart, Affair boasts a good story, as the cat and mouse between Crown and Anderson provides intriguing possibilities. At times, the movie comes to life in that domain, but these moments result from the natural chemistry between Dunaway and McQueen, as they connect in a dynamic manner.
Unfortunately, the actors can’t overcome the movie’s general lack of strong plot delineation or character development. Affair launches with showy visuals and remains focused more on those stylistic trappings than anything else.
Because of this, none of the film’s plot elements gain traction. The heist and its fallout lack much sizzle, and beyond the charms of the actors involved, the romantic sequences feel less than thrilling.
Too light on narrative thrust and too heavy on flash, The Thomas Crown Affair disappoints. Its stars’ natural appeal can only take it so far.