Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)


“This is an elegant crime, done by an elegant person. It's not about the money.”
“So, who steals a Monet, just to not sell it?”
“A Monet lover.”

            Let me begin by saying that art theft is not a very elegant crime as people imagine it would be. There are no dashing millionaire playboys in a nice suit who charm their way into galleries and spirit a painting away right off the wall or from storage without anyway ever seeing them commit the crime. Art thieves are usually well organized and look for a piece that can be easily transported. They mostly work for themselves not some rich person high atop a hill in their huge mansion with nothing better to do. They would want to show off their works not hide them so it would be pointless for them to steal. There was one man in Canada who has been arrested eight times for stealing art
            I just did a presentation recently for my Museum Registration class on external theft and how to prevent it I am all up on art and cultural property theft. Art theft currently ranks as the fourth largest criminal enterprise behind drugs, weapons, and money laundering. It generates six billion (yes billion) dollars a year. Most of the sales pass through the United States which is supposed to have strict laws about buying and selling stolen art. The price of art fluctuates like crazy. Works by famous artists, the well known names like Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh, sell for millions. Even if the thieves only make about 10% of the value of the painting they are still not getting too much of a bad deal (I think… math is not my strong suit).
            Anyway… what we see of art theft in movies and TV shows is, well, a sexy view of the crime. They are often portrayed as victimless which, trust me, is never true there is always a victim. One such film portraying a man with a great amount of money and nothing better to do who steals a Monet is The Thomas Crown Affair.
            Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) runs his own highly successful financial firm in New York City. On a regular basis he visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sits in the Impressionist wing staring at a Van Gogh painting of wheat fields. The same afternoon of one of Thomas’s visits, a group of Russians break into the museum through the delivery room by literally hiding in a sculpture of a horse. They make it all the way to gallery and evacuate it before their plan is foiled and they are caught. When they are caught Thomas Crown manages his way into the gallery and takes a Monet painting right off the wall and blends in with the crowd. The entire heist and plan was all his just to get to the painting.
            That night while the police are investigating, a woman named Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) shows up saying she is from the insurance company. The detective assigned to the case puts two and two together and figures out she is a high class bounty hunter. Catherine sees Thomas at the police station when he identifies the men from the heist. Right away she has a feeling Thomas is behind the crime. The following night she confronts him at a party and tells him straight up he is a suspect.
            The more Catherine digs deeper into Thomas and thinks she is getting closer to solving the crime the deeper she falls in love with him. He takes her on a wild goose chase and charms her with everything he has.
             I really did not like how Thomas made Catherine seem stupid. Actually Catherine had the potential to be a good character a good tough woman and that was blown the moment she started becoming emotionally attached to Thomas. I liked Pierce Brosnan in the lead role but I did not like Rene Russo. There was something about her that bothered me. Faye Dunaway plays Thomas’s psychiatrist. She was in the original Thomas Crown Affair in 1968 with Steve McQueen.
             I have to say the thing I went crazy over was how the movie portrayed the inside of the Metropolitan Museum. I go there all the time I know the place like the back of my hand. I was just there last weekend to see a wonderful fashion exhibit. Now the Museum would not allow any filming of the inside which they had to do because of insurance reasons most likely. They do not want people seeing the movie and then thinking they can plan the perfect heist like Thomas Crown. Instead the outside of the Met was used but the interiors were of the New York Public Library along with some soundstage. I was going nuts on so many levels. The first level was the Met does not have any of the paintings that were shown. Yet again, probably due to insurance reasons and to deter theft but also from copyright most likely. Second level, almost all the paintings shown are in different countries! Third level, the Met would have to have unlimited funding and crazy, crazy rich donors to amass that amount of famous works. Fourth level, throughout the movie people kept saying that the Impressionist gallery was being stolen from. The gallery they were in was filled with early 19th century paintings not Impressionists. Fifth and final level, no museum in the United States could ever afford the fireproof metal doors. Security and anti-theft and fire protection equipment is expensive.
            Sorry about the rant. School may be over for the semester but my museum brain never turns off.

            The Thomas Crown Affair was good. I was kind of expecting it to be a bit better there were certain parts that bored me. I was not into the characters at all. For what it is The Thomas Crown Affair is an interesting portrayal of a gentleman art thief who steals for the hell of it. Think of James Bond being a millionaire and an art thief and you have The Thomas Crown Affair. Only it is not as fast paced and well developed like a Bond film.