It may not live up to its title, but as a polished and lustrous exercise in ’60s nostalgia, “Flawless” holds its value. A heist movie that pits Michael Caine, ironically reprising his own work in that genre, opposite Demi Moore — here an ambitious businesswoman, providing pic’s only concession to 21st-century tastes — pic is as neatly tailored, clean-cut, and visually appealing as a Savile Row suit. But auds accustomed to more knowing fare are likely to find its twists and turns outdated while yearning for a little of the rebellious fun that made the genre gleam in the first place.
Commercial prospects seem solid if not spectacular in Europe, with Stateside activity (Magnolia Pictures release goes out Nov. 30 in the U.S.) for this ultra-Brit product depending on whether the admittedly striking Caine-Moore combo raises the right expectations.
Opening credits sequence shows the journey of a diamond from mud to ring, suggesting the precision engineering of the plot to come, but also the moral murkiness involved in the ring’s production.
The aging Laura Quinn (Moore, curiously made-up) is being interviewed about her role as a groundbreaking businesswoman. Pic then flashes back to 1960 London, when the power-suited, ambitious and brilliant Quinn, the only senior female exec at the London Diamonds Corp., becomes frustrated after being passed over for promotion by her male colleagues.
There has been a scandal at a South African mine and a hundred miners have died, threatening the company’s relationship with the all-important Russians. Quinn hands the right political solution to company boss Sir Milton Ashtoncroft (Joss Ackland), but is then informed by the company’s soon-to-retire janitor, Hobbs (Caine) — who appears to know all the company business — that she is about to be fired anyway.
Incredibly to Quinn, Hobbs is planning a heist: Like a Cockney Iago, he plays persistently on her insecurities, and soon she’s dreaming about walking out of the building with diamonds stuck to the insides of her fingernails. Quinn obtains the code to the safe, while Hobbs manages to dupe the newly installed security cameras. (“What will they think of next?” he muses, in one of the script’s winks to our less innocent times.)
The lengthy, nerve-wracking central heist sequence is beautifully shot, shuttling between Hobbs’ attempts to enter the vault, security footage, a hungry guard and Moore’s nervous attempts to make a red-herring phone call.
Plot then focuses on the increasingly edgy relationship between Hobbs and Quinn as insurance investigator Finch (Lambert Wilson) opens an inquiry and a mild flirtation with the heroine. But pic never sparkles as brightly as before.
One of the things that make Caine’s ’60s heist movies memorable is their sense of fun, something conspicuously lacking here — it’s as though the laughter were accidentally left out of the recipe while the heist ingredients were being carefully measured out. Nor is there much room for romance — though some is smuggled in, rather movingly, courtesy of Hobbs.
Likewise, the modern imperatives of political correctness don’t work in pic’s favor. The exploitation of the miners serves only as a potential wrench in the gears of the plot, while the conventional ending barely reps the triumph of a woman over the system promised at the outset.Moore is convincing enough as Quinn, who’s only superficially tough, and best when she lowers her guard and allows her nervousness to show through. (Her wobbly Brit accent is explained by the fact that she’s an American who studied at Oxford.)
Caine, shuffling around in blue overalls, uttering softly spoken eternal truths, plays himself to perfection, but the duo’s relationship, despite the actors’ hard work, never quite sheds its artificiality or earns our sympathy. Ackland, as the spluttering, rubicund Sir Milton, is enjoyably Falstaffian.
Period detail is lovingly rendered (it’s a nice touch to have people smoking in the cinema), while the technology is wonderfully ’60s. Dialogue is occasionally spot-on; one potential suitor to Quinn explains that, since he’s married, any affair would have to be “unadventurous.” (This, after all, is before the Swingin’ ’60s were really under way.)
Away from Stephen Warbeck’s effective orchestral score, smoky jazz — such as Dave Brubeck’s epoch-defining “Take Five” — gorgeously reminds us where we are.