The Thomas Crown Conundrum

I’ve been following along with the Blank Check podcast’s John McTiernan series and in the Thomas Crown Affair remake episode, they ask an interesting question: Does Crown actually get away with it? Spoilers ahoy! If you haven’t seen it, it’s great, and I think one of the rare instances where the remake is better than the original.

Thomas Crown

In the movie, bored finance CEO Thomas Crown (played by Pierce Brosnan) steals a Monet painting worth millions (in a nifty, well-crafted heist sequence). Crown then offers the museum a replacement painting to display in place of the Monet. Insurance investigator Catherine Banning (played by Rene Russo) arrives and quickly realizes that Crown was behind the heist, but can’t prove it. After a false start involving a counterfeit Monet and Dogs Playing Poker, she begins to fall for Crown, but they obviously can’t be together unless he returns the painting. Yadda yadda yadda, it turns out that the replacement painting is actually the Monet with some disguising watercolors painted on top, and is revealed in another nifty heist sequence.

So the question is: Even though the Monet was returned under Crown’s replacement painting, doesn’t that still implicate him? Won’t the police still be justified in arresting him? They discuss this on the podcast, and basically come down on the “Don’t overthink it, it’s just a movie” side of things, which is probably right, but I had a thought (an overthink, if you will) that I figured I’d share.

I have to make some (reasonable!) assumptions to make this work. First, I’m assuming there are records indicating that Crown purchased the replacement painting (preferably after the initial Monet heist – perhaps he purchases it because of the heist.) This kinda has to be the case in order for Crown to get away with his plan, because if he has no record of purchase, then the police will know he had the Monet and orchestrated the counterfeiting once everything is revealed in the end.

Second, he has his counterfeiter/surrogate daughter paint the replacement painting on top of the Monet in watercolors. That way he’s “returned” the painting without anyone knowing.

Third, he actually purchased the replacement painting (this sorta follows from the first assumption above). But what has happened to the actual replacement painting that Crown presumably made a show of purchasing in order to replace the Monet for the museum? In the film, Crown and Banning take a trip to Martinique, and Crown keeps asking her if he can show her a painting in an unmarked crate (the implication being that it’s the Monet and that he’s taunting her). At a certain point, she grabs the crate and throws it on the fire.

So here’s my theory: The “real” replacement painting was what was in the crate that got burned. That way, Crown can pretend that the replacement was a counterfeit painted on top of the Monet (i.e. that he was duped, not the, er… duper?), with no legal implications to him. Alright, minimal legal implications.

Ok, it’s still quite a stretch, this is just a movie and I’m overthinking it and really, so are you, because who cares, Crown definitely pulled off the more important Heist: he stole Rene Russo’s heart.

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