review for The Thomas Crown Affair on AllMovie

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
by Michael Costello review

Norman Jewison's stylish romantic caper, featuring Steve McQueen in a rare cerebral role, is an enjoyably lightweight compendium of '60s film technique. It begins as a cat-and-mouse game between a wealthy businessman (McQueen), who has masterminded a spectacularly complex bank heist for his own amusement, and the brilliant insurance investigator (Faye Dunaway) assigned to the case, but the film slides into a higher gear when they fall for each other. More romance than heist, the film capitalizes on the powerful chemistry of the two stars, who were never photographed as stunningly as they are here by the legendary Haskell Wexler. In a celebrated six-minute set piece, a wordless chess game between the two develops into an increasingly intense pas de deux of visual foreplay; near its climax, a rapt McQueen gazes on while Dunaway contemplatively fondles the head of a bishop. The wariness of the couple, who can never entirely trust one another, only heightens the atmosphere of erotic frisson. Michel Legrand's layers his catchy score with interlocking ostinatos which echo the film's visual motif of circularity, while adding an undercurrent of playfulness. The film's adolescent fantasy of omnipotence may have no more substance than a soap bubble, and its frenetic inventory of '60s visual gimmicks can sometimes seem painfully anachronistic, but it remains a skillfully concocted diversion.