The Thomas Crown Affair remake is a ticket to two hours in a better, more glamorous universe. It’s set in a world much like our own, except the worst thing billionaires get up to is audacious just-for-kicks art theft, and also the billionaires have the looks and charm of a 1999 Pierce Brosnan. In the immortal words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”
This is just a delight of a movie, a confection of clever ruses, attractive actors, and sparkling sexual chemistry. Brosnan plays Thomas Crown, successful businessman turned occasional master thief: he doesn’t need the money or even particularly want the Monet he spirits away from the Met, but he gets off on the thrill of being able to pull off a good heist. As talented as he is, though, he meets his professional and personal equal in the form of Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), an insurance investigator who is as driven and creative as he is. Their battle of wits mixes inescapably with their flirtation, giving all their cat-and-mouse interactions both the crackle of danger and the fizz of champagne.
Banning is flexible about the rules, but Crown’s complete disregard for them means he can anticipate her moves a little better than she can anticipate his. Every time they clash, whichever one of them comes out on top, they come away a little hotter for each other–and a little more deeply entwined emotionally. It makes them both vulnerable, especially since they’re both smart enough, and wary enough, to know that the other person could be stringing them along just for an advantage in their game.
Crown might be the title character, but Banning is the audience surrogate and the one who provides the point of view: we know what she knows, but Crown is far more enigmatic. We see her plans, but his are largely a mystery. It makes the romance all the more palpable. When Banning is clever enough to (seemingly) find the Monet hidden in Crown’s home only to discover that it’s actually a brilliant forgery painted over a picture of dogs playing poker, it’s hard not to feel as simultaneously thwarted and admiring as she does. Crown, you magnificent bastard! That moment leads to one of the film’s best scenes, as an irate Banning joins Crown at a black-and-white dance and, in a semi-transparent dress, leads him into a gloriously sexy tango. It’s the movie in miniature, daring you to resist the sheer, sexy fun of a good trick done well. If the film is clicking with its audience, at this point they’ll be just as willing to tango.