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Autumnal Beauty

[whitespace] The Thomas Crown Affair
On the Trail: Rene Russo plays an insurance investigator tracking down a posh crook in the remake of 'The Thomas Crown Affair.'

Rene Russo is the real focus of 'Crown Affair'

By Richard von Busack

HARK TO Pierce Brosnan, who produced and stars in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair: "I have long thought that Thomas Crown was one of the truly clever and complex characters in the literature of cinema." As much as I've enjoyed Brosnan's 007, I think that considering Thomas Crown a figure of "literature" is a gross exaggeration. The "posh master crimester" (as critic Manny Farber described him) who robbed a Boston bank for thrills was just a late-'60s version of legions of gentleman thieves. It was only the style of storytelling that made him different. Farber observed that Crown was at one in disenchantment with Michel Piccoli in Contempt and Dirk Bogarde in Accident. When director Norman Jewison made his 1968 anti-caper, he glazed it with boredom-chic, mating Steve McQueen's petrified cool to the living porcelain mask that was the young Faye Dunaway. Michel Legrande's hothouse music warmed the film. Those who don't remember the theme, "Windmills of Your Mind" (by the Bergmans, not Legrande), will remember either the sexy chess game or cinematographer Haskell Wexler's modish use of split-screen images. The last two devices have been parodied beyond resurrection in the Austin Powers movies.

As befits its status as "literature," the new Thomas Crown Affair tries to psychoanalyze the man. We have Dunaway guest-starring as Crown's psychiatrist, cackling about "Peter Pan Syndrome"--you'd really think that a man of Crown's $$$ could afford better shrinkage. John McTiernan's direction is obvious and flat, particularly in the first half. But there's one element that makes this worthwhile: the new version accents the word "affair." It's really a women's picture.

The subject isn't Crown, the lonely billionaire cypher who loves French Impressionist paintings. Instead, the film focuses on his lover and pursuer, the vixenish insurance investigator Catherine Banning (Rene Russo). Banning's emotional risk in getting too close to Crown constitutes the film's real drama. Russo is a well-liked actress who usually plays it butch, even though she was once a celebrated fashion model. She's never appeared as glamorous onscreen as she does here, dancing in a transparent black crepe number, her heavy eyelids photographed like Dietrich's.

Of course, you want to praise an actor with better words than the ones past-30 women in the audience will be thinking when they see Russo: "God, she must work out a lot." The film, set in the fall, highlights Russo's autumnal beauty. In one of the best scenes, she's seated in a glider with Crown, the shades of her hair matching the blazing New England foliage hundreds of feet below. The Thomas Crown Affair never works better than halfway. Denis Leary is especially boring as a police detective who is flirting with Russo, and much of Bill Conti's score categorizes as the year's worst. But macha women who give this a chance will love Russo's Banning.

The Thomas Crown Affair (R; 114 min.), directed by John McTiernan, written by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, photographed by Tom Priestley and starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, opens Friday at the 4lst Ave. Playhouse and the Riverfront Stadium Twin.

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From the August 4-11, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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