This is an unusual movie: Its hero is a rather private villain. – A kind of gentleman, who loves beautiful & expensive things; a businessman, dishonest & unkind, who knows justice is the association of a gang of thieves, but blinds his workers to this truth; an adventurer, bored by civil society & its pretensions.
Crown organizes & runs vicariously a heist, in the beginning. It were vulgar to involve himself… It is professional, calculated, efficient: Like his computerized business & his accurate valuation of property. How is stealing different from running a company?, we are made to ask… His thieves resemble his employees: suited up, obeying orders, paid in monthly installments, sweaty, lacking confidence. They are told, What they don’t know can’t hurt them. They are mere tools!, we are made to think. This mastermind makes money, but his object is power, whether they know him or not. But people would rather not be oppressed…
Crown is not an ostentatious man, but he catches the eye – he is confident, but you might suspect he flouts the laws. Safely home at the end of the first act, with a cigar & a fine drink, in his aristocratic apartment, he laughs heartily to himself; there’s a skip in his step. He banks in Geneva in the afternoons, but lives in America.
Crown walks with the easy charm of the successful. But is tired, he says; death might be a release, he says. Well, what in the world causes him to complain? Maybe the world seems small when you own enough of it. What need had he to rob banks, being so rich? – Why does not he believe in the laws? That would solve both his problems. Maybe a trip around the world would do it… I suppose he attempts to escape the laws thereby; but would he understand them?
The problem of the plot is simple: What can America offer him? The plot – the woman chasing after him – & his plot – robbing banks – meet accidentally. This is necessary, because his self-loathing suggests he suspects the political connection between wealth & virtue is spurious. – But where we expect to find crime, we find love. The woman makes the two plots meet by falling in love. But she threatens to cause her beloved man to get killed, because she wants wealth. She is beautiful but unjust; the laws are just, but ugly… The law requires his death, but its enforcers are simpletons. She has wit, but lacks authority. She resembles him, who leads her on, amused & intrigued. His plot must enfold hers; she must unfold his. They come together; they are separated. She pursues wealth; that is her virtue; he has wealth.
Steve McQueen at his best. See it.