Thomas Crown Affair - Original vs. the Remake

Thomas Crown Affairs was originally made in 1968 with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. A sound hit, it was later remade in 1999, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. The plots is the same: Thomas Crown is a bored rich man who steals money/paintings (depending on the movie). Vicki Anderson is a insurance investigator who know's he's guilty, she just needs to prove it. Cat-and-mouse games ensure. 

Now, let's get outside the facts. Which is the better movie? As we all know, there is no "definite" answer to this question, and opinion may vary, but it is undeniable - these movies, despite a similar plot, are as different from one another as it gets. Not in the sense that they belong to a totally different genre or indeed have a story line that can't compare, but the difference that can only spring when you compare two things that can be compared on a solid basis, that are similar in so many ways. 

Movies, and other art, are line onions - constructed of layers, and the more you peel, you either get a more refined taste of indeed, don't get anything. Thus, some movies are paper thin, some are complex and demand more work. Thomas Crown Remake is a tasty onion with but a few layers. Thomas Crown Original is a bit less tasty onion, but with layers to peel. 

But let' first look at the similarities. Both movies are fun, stylish, deeply satisfying. They are what caper movies are all about, and show us that Hollywood, despite all of its flaws, churned good movies back in 1968 and it did in 1999. The fashions are to die for in both versions - and both have that unique veneer of "coolness" that few movies can achieve today.   

Both movies have unusual female leads - Faye Dunaway as Vicki Anderson had that take-no-hostages, utilitarian mentality was absolutely alien in female characters (and even is today), which make her a truly delicious delight. She was a stunning lady that hid a Machiavellian mind behind her velvet fan. She kept up with Crown, step by step, bit by bit. She was not easily intimidated, did things her own way and never settled for less. We need more female characters like her! 

Rene Russo, less Machiavellian but equally as capable, had her spades elsewhere - unlike Faye who was about 27 when the movie was made (and at the peak of her beauty), Rene was 40+ - for Hollywood, this is way past her prime. But boy, she's steaming hot!! If you need a praise for older women - look no further than Rene in this movie. She's a paragon of mature, strong femininity that loses none of it's frills and levity. She truly is a rock of the ages, a beanpole to measure female characters that come before and after her.  

There are a few things the the remake does even better than the original. The elaborate dance macabre between Thomas Crown and Vicki Anderson is fleshed out a bit more. The caper story is sturdier and generally less grim and more fun. It's a bit longer and thus more expansive. 

However, all of this is not the axis of the movie. It's gravitas is, well, the anti hero of the piece - Thomas Crown himself. This is where all the difference lies. When you compare McQueen and Brosnan - well, Brosnan carries the short end of the stick, but it's no fault of his own. Let's delve deeper into this. 

Brosnan is perfect in the role as he was asked to play it - and he's not the problem. It's the writing. It's a rather shallow role that could have been played by any number of elegant, well heeled, James Bond like actors. Clive Owen. Gerard Butler. And the list goes on. The type was well known and prevalent in movies before - the gentleman thief: Arsene Lupin, Raffles, Saint, to just name a few. He plays the game and enjoys it, but that is about it. He can charm and outwit you, is unflappable, he has just the right dash of dastardly and cheeky to make him the "big" combo. But, what you see is what you get. There is no dipping below the surface.   

Here comes the biggest different between movies. Steve McQueen, as Thomas Crown, isn't just the wealthy type who steals because he likes it. He is not all style, technique, wit and connoisseur-ship.

He is desperate. And he is lost.  

This Crown doesn't do it fun. He does it because he NEEDS to do it. It's literary a matter of life and death for him, not unlike a serpent inside his breasts that will bite when his fangs swell with venom. Just look at the scene where he laughs hysterically when in bed with Faye. A man afraid? A man mad?  

Crown is the victim of the modem paradigm of a succesful man - of the way man is expectd to think, to act and to feel. The living shell that is seen as a tool to achieve something.

What? Money? Power? Social standing? A reputation? 

Yet, none of these things matter in the long run. Like everything around us, it's just an illusion. Fragile, a sit can burst so easily when you just look at it. There is nothing behind it, nothing to hold it. 

However, we are easily distracted by our daily life to notice much of what is happening behind it. The problems comes when there are no such distractions- Crown is materially well of - not only this, he is intellectually agile enough to understand his predicament, shared by so many people around him. 

His need to validate (What? Why? How?) himself is internal, like a dark rotor constantly spinning inside of him, constantly asking for more and more fuel. It is desperate, almost demonic and deep as the abyss - and it just goes son and on, like the windmills of our mind. He does not know. He is a lost man, swallowed by ignorance and - but he doesn't have the answer. He never will.

THIS is why the ending of the original movie (watch it - just mild spoilers here!) is bitter sweet. It's not about the failed love song between Thomas and Vicki - that's not tragic at all. Two people like that can never enjoy a typical romance. What is sad is that Thomas just goes on, just continues running. There is nothing inside. Nothing has been learned. No substance. No answers. No true life.  

While the remake Thomas Crown find himself a worthy woman and starts anew, breezy and charming as he always was, the original Thomas Crown just continues his dismal odyssey. Unlike the Greek heroes, who fought for something, he has nothing to fight for. His was a hollow victory and and burden of a thousand stones is still on his shoulders. He is the modern hero "par excellence", the seeker of the lost, aware of it all but with no answers in sight - as I said, a desperate man.   

In the end, one must ask himself, is this is the path of all flesh? 

This layer of existentialism will forever separate the original movie from the remake. The remake is a good movie for sure, but only the original will ask us questions, questions that perhaps, we do not know how to answer. 


Published by Stela Zoric


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