Friday, November 28, 2008

FILM REVIEW OF ''FLAWLESS'' (British-2007)

The heist thriller “Flawless” (** out of ****) concerns not so much the planning and execution of a master crime as it does the scandalous hysteria that erupts in the wake of the theft of 100-million pounds worth of diamonds. “Il Postino” director Michael Radford and scenarist Edward Anderson have contrived a cold, antiseptic, humor-free, 1960’s period-piece crime caper that is polished, but pallid. No, “Flawless” is neither “Rififi” (1954) nor “Topkapi” (1964). “Flawless” won’t make your palms perspire in dreadful anticipation. This is a heist movie where the organization wallows in such corruption itself that we don’t care if they get taken to the cleaners and if some of their executives take a fatal plunge. The diamond company here acquires its stones under shady circumstances that the movie “Blood Diamond” explored with greater depth and melodrama.

The two protagonists, Demi Moore and Michael Caine, are as dull as dish rags. We sympathize about their respective plights. He has a grief-stricken history involving a wife who died from cancer fifteen years ago owing to hospital insurance complications, and she is an 18-year executive at the Diamond company whose gender works against her in a man’s world. The two have struggled their entire lives against an unfair system. Women will lament the sexual discrimination with which the heroine contends, and the casting of Demi Moore is apt, since she starred in the Michael Douglas movie “Disclosure” about reverse sexual discrimination in the workplace. Michael Caine isn’t capable of giving a bad performance. Indeed, his lowly, blue collar, Al Capp custodian is probably the only thing flawless about “Flawless.” Attention-deficient audiences will lose patience with this monotonous exercise in larceny.

“Flawless” opens appropriately enough with African-American hands dredging up uncut diamonds from mother earth, and Radford traces the passage that the stones make from anonymity to radiate gems set in a ring on a woman’s hand. Indeed, it’s a nice way to open a film, but “Flawless” is rather tame as heist thrillers go, and the scrupulous attention to detail that distinguishes this tale becomes tiresome. The plot shifts gears from this opening to a present day sequence in London with an elderly Laura Quinn (Demi Moore of “G.I. Jane”) sitting down for an interview about being a role model business woman. The moment that she says she hasn’t been in London for 40 years is a red herring to make us think that something else happened. Unfortunately, this misdirection yields little in the way of anxiety. Radford transports us back to the 1960s and we see the stuffed shirts that Quinn works with as the only female executive at the London Diamonds Corporation. A smart, successful, Oxford-educated American, she cracks her well-coiffed cranium in futility against a glass ceiling. Quinn strikes up an unlikely acquaintance with Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine of “The Italian Job”) who sees all and knows all as a custodian. People speak freely around him because they discount him as a nobody. Hobbs warns Quinn at one point that the company plans to sack her and she confirms his information in a delightful little sequence.

Hobbs engineers a grand scheme to steal diamonds. An amusing sequence takes place early in the action when he invites Quinn to a cinema to discuss the plan during a showing of the classic crime caper “The League of Gentlemen” (1960) with Jack Hawkins and Richard Attenborough. "The League of Gentlemen" effectively establishes a time setting. Meanwhile, the Corporation installs security surveillance cameras that cycle in 60 second blocks to keep track of all corridors including the one in front of a huge vault door. This obstacle presents a challenge that keeps Hobbs on his toes, but overall it works to the detriment of the firm. The flaw is that when the Hobbs character effects entry into the vault, the security guard is so preoccupied with his culinary distractions that he takes his eyes off the security monitors far too long. Meanwhile, Quinn scrambles from one phone booth to another to make a call that will serve to distract the guard. In her haste to make the first call, she overlooked the obvious fact that the phone cord had been cut! In the long run, her contribution is disposable. The suspense that Radford generates is mild. Ironically, technology doesn't thwart the crime as much as human foibles. Hobbs cleans the place out and the bosses react with shock when they discover their entire inventory has vanished.

Later, after the crime has transpired and a well-dressed investigator, Finch (Lambert Wilson), arrives to investigate it, Radford tries to create tension between an anxious Quinn and an obdurate Hobbs. Hobbs refuses to give in. Cigarette puffing Quinn dangles on tenterhooks and fears the prospect of prison. Indeed, one breathless moment occurs after the robbery, but unless you are on your toes, you may overlook it. Eventually, in the post-mortem of the crime that Radford presents during the final quarter, we learn how Hobbs disposed of the ice without lugging it out the door. Unfortunately, the filmmakers must have gambled that their reticence about the whereabouts of the missing stones would tantalize us. It doesn’t. Meanwhile, we watch without worry as Quinn runs amok with mild-mannered hysteria trying to find the loot. Hobbs keeps his head in this crisis and emerges as the harmless, old duffer that he masquerades as, right down to his limp. No, he isn’t like the villain of “The Usual Suspects” who was a chameleon. The other revelation about what our heroine's activities over the last forty years is bittersweet. “Flawless” refuses to let you have your cake and enjoy it, too. In other words, it isn’t a lot of fun.