Sunday, December 7, 2008

Flick of the Week: Monet's unknown masterpiece, "Dogs At Cards"

This week's Flick of the Week, takes us from In the Line of Fire, with Renee Russo to The Thomas Crown Affair, a 1999 remake of the Steve McQueen, Faye Dunnaway 1968 flick of the same name.

This is not my favourite Renee Russo film - Get Shorty is brilliant - but I have a plan with these choices, and Thomas Crown gets me there, whereas Get Shorty takes me off to other areas of the film world (so I'll get to it later).

This flick is a bit of fluff about a millionaire banker, Thomas Crown (probably billionaire, and like all good billionaires, he comes from a poor background, and because he is played by Pierce Brosnan he is from Scotland - never mind that Brosnan is actually Irish) who steals Monet's painting, San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk, from a museum in New York (notionally the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Brought in by the insurers of the painting, is hot shot artwork investigator (wonder how you get that job?) Catherine Banning, played by Renee Russo. Russo quickly suspects Brosnan, and thus begins the game of cat and mouse.

The original featured McQueen playing the millionaire who for the fun of it orchestrates a bank robbery. By 1999 the producers of the remake thought this might makes the Crown character somewhat unattractive, and thus they made him an art thief, because, as the grizzled NY detective played by comic Dennis Leary says, they're just bits of paint on a wall.

The 1968 film has dated incredibly badly. At the time it was thought to be charged with sexuality, featuring a "sexy chess scene". I hadn't seen the original until a few years ago, and I have to report it's exceedingly dull. McQueen does not look good as a rich guy - and can hardly pull off the 'cultured' personality.

This version features at least a guy who can wear a tux (hey, he was James Bond after all), and he also comes across as someone who would not look out of place in the world of high finance or as a connoisseur of fine art.

And it's important, because this film is all about the look. As all good films that are in reality bits of fluff (think To Catch a Thief), the whole thing disintegrates if you think about it too much. And while this is certainly not up there with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly matching wits on the French Riviera, there's still lots of fun to be had.

Russo is as sexy as any woman can possibly be, she plays her character with a hard edge - a woman who is used to getting her way and who likes to swim with sharks. She and Brosnan interact brilliantly (but heck, Russo always makes her male leads look good - even Tim Allen in the hilarious Big Trouble). She would have been great in a Bond film, but alas, this marked a sharp decline in her film fortunes. Since this film she has been in the woeful Showtime, the very funny but ignored Big Trouble, the Pacino and Matthew McConaughey flick Two for the Money (as with all McConaughey flicks, it died) ,and Yours, Mine and Ours which was made in 2005.

2005?? What the hell?! For crying out loud, somebody give this woman a role!

Mainly I like this film because I can remember when I first saw it. My wife and I saw it on our wedding anniversary in 1999. We spent the night at a hotel, had dinner at our favourite Chinese restaurant, saw the film, then came back to the room and caught the end of the Brownlow Medal count. Now if that ain't a romantic night, then I don't know what is! (errr...).

But for all its weaknesses (do we really care if Crown gets caught?), it's a fun couple of hours, that never really asks to be treated any more seriously than it should be. It also features a great jazz/blues based soundtrack by Bill Conti, and the classic blues song "Sinnerman" sung by Nina Simone is used in the pivotal scene below (beware, if you haven't seen the film there's a big spoiler at the end):

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