Magnolia Pictures // 2008 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // September 11th, 2008
It took the heist of the century to settle the score.
A typical heist movie with a stylish international flavor, Flawless is a cut above of the standard Hollywood fare. Now available on DVD courtesy of Magnolia Pictures, does it still have enough finesse to attract casual movie watchers?
A reporter is doing research on women's employment in the 1950s and contacts Laura Quinn (Demi Moore, Mr. Brooks), because she is, well, alive. Quinn used to be an employee of the London Diamond Corporation. While she was able to work her way up to manager, the glass ceiling kept her from receiving true executive treatment, despite her business savvy. Still, she takes the sexism with a grain of salt, working late each night hoping somebody would notice.
The only one who compliments her initiative is Hobbs (Michael Caine, The Dark Knight), an aging janitor who is preparing to retire with a ludicrously small pension. He somehow reads Quinn's frustration, and knows it will increase once the company's plans to fire her get into her conscience. Boldly, Hobbs requests Quinn be his "inside man" in a master plan to empty the corporations giant vault of diamonds. Quinn is only lukewarm to the idea, and yet helps him not so much because of the reward, but also it's a crafty form of revenge.
Like inspirational teacher dramas and horny teenager comedies, heist movies have become a dime a dozen. The formula is there, along with all the expected ingredients: safes, cameras, secret meetings, gems, cops...you name it. However, Flawless sticks out, if only for its expert cast, fine period detail, and its considerably high amount of tension. Freshman screenwriter Edward Anderson has crafted a welcome addition to the canon, with strong characterizations and reasonably realistic twists. Granted, the action is minimal, but the dialogue carries many of the scenes, particularly when they involve Hobbs and Quinn.
Veteran director Michael Radford is best known for Il Postino, the 1994 romantic comedy which received five Oscar nominations. However, I'm one of many critics who consider his entire body of work impressive. From first-rate adaptations of Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four) and Shakespeare (The Merchant Of Venice) to over-the-top erotic thrillers (B. Monkey and Dancing At The Blue Iguana), Radford's resume gets more unique with each film. Flawless is no different. It was made with care and professionalism, and Radford never indulges in flashy set-pieces or Hollywood histrionics. This is one of his best films, and certainly the best genre flick since Frank Oz's The Score.
Like many Radford films, the budget is low but well spent. Although Flawless is set in London, it was actually filmed in Luxembourg. Not to worry, however, as much of the story is told within the walls of the London Diamond building, and even in scenes at, say, Caine's apartment or the local pub, you never question the setting. Production designer Sophie Becher (Alfie) has, overall, done an exceptional job in re-creating the business world of 1950s London, with the music and costumes adding support. Flawless isn't meant to be visually stimulating. Still, it succeeds in making the audience believe what it presents in terms of background and setting.
On the surface, Sir Michael Caine and Demi Moore sound like an unlikely screen team. Bear in mind they've worked together before -- as father and daughter (!) in 1984's Blame It On Rio, and their chemistry continues here quite well. Caine is masterful as always, delivering his lines with gusto, almost always with a twinkle in his eye and a smile of conniving brilliance. At 75 years old, Caine remains one of Britain's finest actors, and I wouldn't be surprised if a third Oscar is waiting in his future. As for Moore, she gives one of her better performances as this quiet but confident manager who's pushing 40 and whose career is in jeopardy. She does struggle with her British accent, which doesn't make much sense considering the fact she's supposed to be an American who got accepted into Oxford. Yet, she does give Laura Quinn just the right balance of intelligence and sensuality.
Magnolia Pictures brings Flawless to DVD with not bad results. The 2.35: Anamorphic print is flat at times but sports excellent flesh tones and strong black levels. Even better is a Dolby 5.1 track, which emphasizes some effective sound effects and an intensely smooth score by Paul Englishby. Subtitles are in Spanish only. Magnolia only screws up when it comes to bonus features, with the sole choice being a mercifully short featurette ("Exploring the Facets"), which is essentially a behind-the-scenes piece. The cast and crew provide interviews, with Becher and her production choices glossed over in some detail; nevertheless, it leaves you wanting more. Radford has always been up to recording commentaries for his previous films, so his audio presence is very much missed.
Naturally, the film doesn't live up to its title as much as the audience would like. Aside from a twist or two, the story itself doesn't have much in the way of freshness. It travels, more or less, exactly where you expect it to go. In addition, some serious tightening would have helped, as we occasionally veer off in unnecessary directions.
The lack of surprises is one thing, but my biggest beef is the denouement. It's not only difficult to buy, it's also slightly unsatisfying. Perhaps the framework involving the modern-day British reporter was the problem, as it set everything up too early and didn't allow the dynamics to flow more naturally.
While Magnolia's DVD treatment of Flawless could have been improved in the extras department, the film itself would make a worthy entertainment after dinner.
Caine and Moore are free to go to make Blame It On Rio 2. Court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Exploring the Facets"