Sunday, March 30, 2008
Inventing The Modern Woman
You don’t need to give me a title, all you need to do is say “Michael Caine Heist Movie!” and I’ll show up. I’ve seen GAMBIT, I’ve seen THE ITALIAN JOB. I’ve even seen DEADFALL. Hey, I’ve even seen SILVER BEARS, not that I remember very much about it. The title for this one, for the record, is FLAWLESS, not to be confused with the 1999 Joel Schumacher film and certain to bring pleasure to everyone trying to come up with a lame “FLAWLESS sure isn’t!”-type comment so they think they’re being clever. But whatever the title, it’s a heist movie, it’s set in 60s London and it stars Michael Caine (teamed, for the first time since BLAME IT ON RIO, with Demi Moore) so I’m already interested. It’s just a few weeks since THE BANK JOB, another period heist movie set in London and maybe the world wouldn’t be a better place if we always got such movies this often, but hey, it sure wouldn’t hurt. And I’d be a little happier. Of course, quality sometimes varies. The opening of FLAWLESS includes a brief montage of business women seen throughout modern-day London, tipping us off to notions of how much the world has changed since the era of when the bulk of this movie is set in. It’s a strong jumping off point and it’s unfortunate that the movie wasn’t content with that strength.
In this setting we encounter Demi Moore buried under mounds of old-age makeup, being interviewed by a reporter about what she remembers of the days when she was one of the few female executives in existence, a time that saw the invention of modern woman. In 1960 London, Laura Quinn (Moore), that female executive, works at the London Diamond Corporation where she has already been passed over numerous times for promotions in favor of less-qualified men. When the night janitor Hobbs (Michael Caine) approaches her in secret with some disturbing news regarding her future with the company he also proposes to her a foolproof plan which he has bee formulating for years to get into the heavily-guarded diamond vault and steal a relatively small amount of stones which will help them both financially. Naturally, things do not go precisely to plan—or, more to the point, what she is told the plan will be--and Laura soon finds herself in over her head as the investigation into the crime begins.
Though I’ve seen references out there to the film being set in “swinging London” the 1960 setting actually places it a few years before that period so it has no such elements. It did, however, make me continually wonder when the first season of MAD MEN is going to come out on DVD. Within this nicely cool environment we are introduced to the welcome rarity of not only a woman in the lead but one who is not burdened with an unnecessary love interest throughout. Romance between Moore and Caine is fortunately ruled out immediately—this isn’t ENTRAPMENT—and even when Lambert Wilson enters the film as an investigator (sort of this film’s equivalent of Denis Leary in THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR) the movie seems to be resisting those temptations. It’s actually easy to imagine a rewrite that would bring such a romantic triangle into play and it wouldn’t have even altered that structure that much, so it’s actually a little surprising that the movie chooses to never go there. A little admirable too, but it’s hard not to think that, like its lead actress, the movie feels a little cool without such extra layers of emotion. It’s too bad because I want to like this movie more than I do and it’s hard not to mention that even ten years ago this would have gotten a wide release just like a normal movie. Now, it gets a limited opening while simultaneously being available to view at home on Ultra VOD, whatever that is. Of course, it is a movie about two lead characters dealing with aging, loneliness and their own mortality, which isn’t quite what gets the big bucks on opening weekend these days. But the big problem with FLAWLESS isn’t that it feels like an anomaly in this marketplace, but that it never feels quite as sharp as it needs to be, that there’s an extra layer of oomph which is missing. The film was directed by Michael Radford who also directed, among other titles, the Asia Argento vehicle B. MONKEY, another film involving diamond robberies that I vaguely recall could have used more zip to it. FLAWLESS never quite becomes dull but at some points it’s not too far off from being so. Photographed by Richard Greatrex and sporting a production design by Sophie Becher, it’s a consistently elegant looking film. But it seems to be reaching for a significance that it never achieves. The idea of how far women have come since the time the film is set in is a powerful one and should be enough. But the script by Edward Anderson also brings in political asides about South Africa and notions of living ones life philanthropically and if all this isn’t too far-reaching, it certainly never seems to tie it all together. And why is it stating these things to us? Shouldn’t it illustrate that within the story and let us figure those things out? Isn’t that what subtext is supposed to be for?
Within its icy-cool storyline, we have an icy-cool protagonist in Demi Moore, maybe one that is a little too icy. She may annoy me as a celebrity but I have no strong dislike for her as an actress and she certainly looks period appropriate. But while the exterior is necessary for the character she is obviously written with an interior that has a lot going on underneath, one that is frustrated by where she has gotten to in life and I’m just not getting that from her. The accent is also a problem which the film tries to explain by referring to her as an American who studied at Oxford and has worked for the Diamond Corporation ever since. Sound like something added to the script after the fact to me, and considering the time frames we are given means that she attended the school during the way, which seems odd. Now, I have to point out that I like the fact that this is genre movie with a woman of a certain age in the lead, in fact I think it’s terrific. I just wish it were a more successful example In all honesty, I don’t know who else would be right for the part as this point in time—ten years ago Rene Russo could have worked, but of course she got her starring role in a heist movie. So I’m not sure what the answer is. Moore dominates the film and while Michael Caine’s role is by nature secondary but he is of course terrific, nicely underplaying the part and displaying very little vanity in his continually unshaven appearance. In addition to Lambert Wilson from the MATRIX sequels, we also get Joss Ackland from LETHAL WEAPON 2 as the head of the Corporation.
The thing is, I’m excited by the notion of a heist movie with Michael Caine, I’m just not sure the actual movie shares that excitement since it honestly seems more interested in some of the too-serious themes that it aspires to. A day later, I remember the nicely explansive sets as well the enjoyable jazz score by Stephen Warbeck with it’s use of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” a particular highlight. I also remember the perfectly lacquered look of Demi Moore in period garb as well as the always-welcome sight of the great Michael Caine going through the machinations of this type of scenario one more time. It’ll be a fairly enjoyable viewing on DVD but it’s hurt by how much it doesn’t want us to figure out for ourselves what it wants to say about men, women and how we should behave in the world. I remember thinking that THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR 1999 seemed insubstantial but that film has only gained in substance for me over the years. When it comes to a genre film such as this, it’s all right to have those things in mind. But maybe it should give the viewer a chance to make a big thing out of those elements, not vice versa.