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the thomas crown affair steve mcqueen

The trendiest thing to do right now, every cameraman worth his or her salt has at least one or two virtuoso pieces. It was the picnic where Bonnie’s mom was present in “Bonnie and Clyde.” While Benjamin gloated idly through his fish tank in “The Graduate,” Simon and Garfunkel played all of those songs. Finally, a film is made entirely about photography, and the director is given a few minutes to display his skills.

The Thomas Crown Affair is one of the most over-photographed, under-written, and poorly plotted movies of the year. To be clear, I’m not saying its aesthetic value is lacking. It is. Haskell Wexler, who received an Oscar for his photography on “In the Heat of the Night,” shot the film.

That film, however, was a narrative one, meaning it told a story. Unlike some of my more traditional friends, I don’t think a film needs to explain itself, or that its plot needs to mesh like the great grind-wheels of Victorian literature, or that loose ends need to be tied off. The best filmmakers often prioritize atmosphere and effect over plot. However, in “The Thomas Crown Affair,” Norman Jewison fails to accomplish this. With “The Russians Are Coming” and “In the Heat of the Night” under Jewison’s belt, one would expect much more from his latest film.

The issue is that he makes an attempt at storytelling that falls flat. Bostonian Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a wealthy bank robber. Jewison would like us to believe that his plan is incredibly intricate, so the movie opens with a series of cutaways showing different parts of the same scene, including a phone booth in the upper right corner, an index finger dialing a number below, and a man waiting in another room. Expo’s “A Place to Stand” made great use of this method, and “Grand Prix” introduced a less complex way to use multiple images.