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The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) vs. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Hollywood has been remaking movies since the beginning. And with a few notable exceptions, most of these films have failed to capture the magic of the original. Even today directors seem convinced that they can produce Hollywood magic by creating an endless array of sequels, remakes, and reboots. Nevertheless, there still exists that rare category of film screaming to be remade.
One such movie is The Thomas Crown Affair. Neither the 1968 original nor the 1999 remake manages to surpass the other. Whilst the original excels at style and sexual tension, it is overshadowed by the remake’s plot and music score. Both films are essentially “style” movies. They rely heavily upon atmosphere to draw in an audience. The cool jazz of the 1999 remake is a massive improvement over the original. There can be no denying that Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” is better suited to the film than the original’s “Windmills of Your Mind.”
But what the remake wins in music, it loses in style and sex appeal. From Faye Dunaway’s wardrobe to Steve McQueen’s three-piece suits, the style of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) has become an iconic part of 20th century style. The tailored suits and designer skirts lend themselves to the film’s upmarket atmosphere and help enhance the sexual tension, which is far more palpable here despite the remake’s decision to show more explicit sex.
The 1999 film makes enormous improvements on the original’s plot. In the original film, the audience is never granted a satisfactory explanation as to why a wealthy, sophisticated gentleman would waste his time organising a bank robbery (the explanation that he does it for kicks barely passes muster). In the remake, the director, John McTiernan and the screenwriters, Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, decide to make Crown an art thief. It is a crime that makes Crown seem intelligent, cultured, and sympathetic.
At the centre of both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair is the relationship between Thomas Crown and Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway)/ Catherine Banning (Rene Russo). In the original film, Crown and Vicki compete as equals causing a sexual tension to pulsate through the entire film. Similarly, in the remake Crown and Banning act as mirror images of one another. Unlike the original, however, the sexual tension quickly fizzles out when the pair form a romantic attachment to one another. At this moment, the erotically-charged battle of wits is replaced with a soap opera-style romance that is, frankly, embarrassing to watch.
In both versions of the film, Thomas Crown is presented as an elegant, sophisticated alpha-male who amassed his wealth thanks to a shrewd business mind and a willingness to take extreme risks. When Crown isn’t making multi-million-dollar deals at the corporate board table, he’s pursing hobbies like polo, gliding, yachting, and golf.
Both Steve McQueen and Pierce Brosnan portray Thomas Crown as a bored millionaire playboy: the type of man with an almost insatiable need for adrenaline. There are, however, marked differences in the way each actor portrays the character. Steve McQueen plays Crown with the kind of roguish charm that made him the “King of Cool” in the sixties and seventies. By contrast, Pierce Brosnan plays Crown as a charmer, the kind of man who feels comfortable in country clubs and golf courses because he’s lived around them his entire life.
As mentioned before, competing against Thomas Crown are the insurance investigators Vicki Anderson and Catherine Banning. Both are largely similar characters. Both have resided in Europe, both are sophisticates, and both come to suspect Thomas Crown merely because they find him attractive. In terms of characterisation, Catherine Banning is certainly the more nuanced of the two.
There is one area, however, where Vicki Anderson excels over Catherine Banning. Sex appeal. At the age of forty-five, Rene Russo (who, it must be said, is a perfectly fine actress) looks too old to be playing the part of a sultry sex kitten who is supposed to be the source of all men’s fantasies. (Faye Dunaway, by contrast, was only twenty-seven and looks every part the sex kitten). Better choices would have been Sharon Stone, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kim Basinger, Kate Winslet, Emanuelle Béart, and Monica Bellucci.
In 2016, Variety reported that Michael B. Jordan was set to star in a second remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. Those wishing to remake the film should heed the following advice. They should combine McQueen and Brosnan’s portrayals of Crown to create a character a witty, urbane, charming, and roguish anti-hero. They should retain the style and sex appeal of the original film, but follow the remake’s lead when it comes to music and plot. And, finally, they should make absolutely certain that they cast the right actress as the female lead. Only then will we get the film we truly deserve.