The Thomas Crown Affair is a stylish mystery thriller directed by Norman Jewison. The movie features an intriguing plot that is brought to life by great actors and is accented with strong technicality. Those looking for a classic heist and mystery flick will not be disappointed by this picture.
The story focuses on Thomas Crown, a Boston-based bank magnate. While his business operations appear to be lawful, Crown is living a double-life as he orchestrates and executes bank robberies. The stolen monies are then quickly ushered to secure Swiss banks. The heists baffle the banks and police, who are assisted by Vicki Anderson, a pragmatic insurance investigator who is known for not letting anything stop her from bringing her targets to justice. The powerful personalities of Anderson and Crown are brought together as the investigation progresses, but the nature of their interactions are quite different than they each expected.
The pacing moves along well. It starts by grabbing the audience’s attention and manages to hold it throughout the film. Not surprisingly, the story’s mystery and thrilling flavors are key in accomplishing this.
It should be noted that the tactful pacing complements the movie’s storyline and style. Viewers looking for a high-octane, action-packed heist films akin to The Italian Job (2003) will not find it here. Thus the calculated pace will not be admired by everyone.
The matters surrounding the planning and execution of the initial heist are captivating. Seeing both sides of Crown only feeds into the mystery and motivation behind his actions. Shortly after the robbery, the police open their case and begin collaborating with Anderson, who sets her sights on finding the culprit. For the most part, this flows smoothly and has a natural flow and presentation.
The pacing is not perfect, however. A well-known romantic sequence takes place during a chess game. The scene was protracted and hampered the pace and should have had further editing.
Key tonal and thematic topics revolve around “reality distortion,” or the notion of reality versus perception. In effect, the people and situations presented here are quite different than how they seem from an outside perspective. The most evident example of this is Crown himself.
On the surface, it may seem odd that a rich, affluent individual would be involved in a crime to gain more wealth. One question asked is, “Why would such a person need more money when they are already in the upper income bracket?” Yet this very line of thought may help explain why they do it. Such an individual would likely consider himself to be the last suspect police would consider. They may even believe it creates an opportunity to commit the “perfect crime.” Conversely, this logic could very well make them a prime suspect. Though somewhat complex, the movie communicates this message quite well. Although this is the central theme, general crime, suspense, mystery, and romantic tension round out the film’s remaining tones.
The performances, particularly from Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, are excellent. McQueen’s Crown is at once debonair and nefarious. The calm manner in which he lives his life and orchestrates the crimes are shocking and are the result of an inspired performance.
However, Crown does enjoy daredevil hobbies and having fun. Deep down, it appears as though Crown is a big, undisciplined adolescent who has fun and commits crimes because he can and believes he will not get caught. Crown’s signature smile and laugh, well-acted highlights, reflect this concept. Overall, viewers can see McQueen really having fun in the role.
Faye Dunaway’s Vicki Anderson, the attractive and tough-as-nails investigator, is also outstanding and is a perfect match for McQueen and Crown. The way in which her Type A personality comes face-to-face with Crown’s powerful and disarming persona is especially great.
McQueen’s and Dunaway’s on-screen chemistry is terrific. While the synergy may appear more flirtatious than investigative, it is clear that Crown is protective and Anderson is determined to catch the criminal mastermind. The interactions are nice and create a balance between the characters and story. The situation is compounded by the highly manipulative nature of each character. Throughout the movie, viewers will try to predict the outcome of the character arcs.
In addition to a great story and performances, The Thomas Crown Affair boasts strong technicality. The cinematography and editing are effective and nuanced. Bird’s-eye view and Dutch tilt shots, coupled with the use of reflections, add flare to the cinematographic compositions. Close-ups and the “Rule of Thirds” are effectively incorporated. Some of the heist shots and style reminded me of scenes in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, which is a compliment.
The cinematography and editing are closely related. The use of split screen and “tiling” is a significant highlight. This shooting and editing effect allowed for both simultaneous and complex storytelling. Granting audiences the ability to simultaneously observe multiple characters and locations was impressive. In one instance, it illustrated Crown weaving his plan by bringing several seemingly disparate pieces together.
This effect also successfully showed the chaos of the world. While the lives of everyday people was being shown, Crown was concurrently implementing a complex, tactical plan. The way in which Crown’s control was captured and communicated was remarkable.
Unfortunately, the split screens were not consistently utilized. Some of the split screens, especially during the polo sequence, were too kaleidoscopic and became dizzying as a viewer. On other occasions, multiple screens of the same shot were shown. As a result, it did not always reflect the complexities but, in some instances, became more of an unnecessary device. From a viewer’s standpoint, these examples made the split screens seem as though they were used simply for the sake of being used.
The film’s production design is another striking feature. Sets have a great look and the office of Crown’s bank reflects the modernity of the workplace. Similarly, Crown’s property mirrors his affluence. His study is well decorated and has beautiful wood paneling. The fashionable wardrobe is matched with the characters.
Norman Jewison’s direction of The Thomas Crown Affair is noteworthy for its creation of intrigue and tension. The performances he is able to elicit from McQueen and Dunaway are incredible. The strong technicality also shows Jewison’s savoir-faire and that he was among those on the cutting edge of cinematic trends. He should be commended for the application of split screen editing, though it should have been used more intentionally.
Further evidence of the strong direction is demonstrated by the film winning the Academy Award for Music, Song – Original for the Picture. The composition, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” is well suited and adds further style to the film. If you hear the song after your screening, it will likely bring back memories of this movie. Jewison’s picture also received an Academy Award nomination for Music, (Original Score – for a Motion Picture [not a musical]).
In the end, The Thomas Crown Affair is a first-rate classic mystery film. If you enjoy subtle cat and mouse stories that will keep you guessing, then you should not miss this movie. Its memorable elements, strong performances, and striking technicality are to be enjoyed and appreciated by viewers.
Distributor: United Artists
Production: The Mirisch Corporation; Simkoe; Solar Productions
Director: Norman Jewison
Producer: Norman Jewison
Screenwriter: Alan R. Trustman
Director of Photography: Haskell Wexler
Editor: Hal Ashby; Byron Brandt; Ralph E. Winters
Art Direction: Robert Boyle
Set Decoration: Edward Boyle
Wardrobe Designer: Theadora Van Runkle (Miss Dunaway);
Music: Michel Legrand
Budget: ca. $4,300,000
Release Date: June 26, 1968
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (negative ratio); 1.85:1 (intended ratio)
Copyright Holder: Mirisch-Simkoe-Solar Productions; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Cast: Steve McQueen; Faye Dunaway; Paul Burke; Jack Weston; Biff McGuire; Addison Powell; Gordon Pinsent; Yaphet Kotto; Sidney Armus; Peg Shirley
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Rating: R; Descriptors: N/A
Running Time: 1 hour and 42 minutes (102 mins.)