The recent theft and recovery of a Rembrandt sketch in California brings to mind a movie that is on the sasoc list of perfection: The Thomas Crown Affair, with Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, and Denis Leary.
The real-life story involved what seems like an almost identical plot:
The 17th Century Rembrandt sketch stolen from a California hotel at the weekend was recovered at a church about 20 miles (32 km) away, it has emerged. Valued at $250,000 (£153,625), the piece, entitled The Judgement, was taken from an exhibition at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey. The sketch was recovered at a San Fernando Valley church after a tip from an anonymous caller on Monday. Police said no one had been arrested in connection with the theft. <source>
In The Thomas Crown Affair, a billionaire (Brosnan) steals a Monet from the Metropolitan museum in New York for the pure pleasure of the challenge inherent in the act. In a private moment, he is seen staring at the painting in his study, drink in hand, and such is the extent and final expression of his purpose. He returns the painting to its original place unharmed. In other words, he didn’t do it for the money.
So it would seem for the real-life thief who stole the Rembrandt and then left it in a church, complete with anonymous phone call.
The movie is an exquisite production and and absolute feast for the eyes, ears, and mind.
In perhaps one of the greatest uses ever of a pre-recorded song in a movie, the climactic scene in the museum — a cat-and-mouse chase that Crown masterminds brilliantly — is set to Nina Simone’s Sinner Man.
The synchronicity of this sequence reminds me of Kubrick’s brilliant use of the second movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony in A Clockwork Orange, a horribly dark and macabre movie, which as I think about it sits in stark contrast to The Thomas Crown Affair.
As dark as A Clockwork Orange is, The Thomas Crown Affair is light, a near-perfect antidote to visions and parables of pain. It has little intellectual heft, but I adore it for the pure pleasure of seeing attractive people acting out a lustful and intelligent seduction in elaborate and entertaining ways and with total class. The art direction, music, editing, wardrobes, locations, comic timing, and poignant moments are flawless. Rene Russo has never been more scorchingly beautiful, and Denis Leary never more compelling, and neither of these observations is meant to diminish Brosnan’s performance, which was pitch-perfect (was anything in this movie not?).
Out of sheer curiosity I went back and watched the original, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, and this horrible experience only added to the stature of the “remake”, a word that utterly fails to describe the dramatic transformation that the producers and all involved accomplished. It stands on its own as a transcendent work, of the lighter kind, but so much the better in an increasingly heavy and dark age.