Eugene Weekly : Movies : 4.17.08


The Botch Job
Demi Moore’s flawed comeback

FLAWLESS: Directed by Michael Radford. Written by Edward Anderson. Cinematography, Richard Greatrex. Music, Stephen Warbeck. Starring Demi Moore, Michael Caine and Lambert Wilson. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. PG-13. 105 minutes.

Sometimes, there’s joy in figuring out a film’s mystery before the characters do. You get to feel clever, and possibly slightly superior, as you watch things play out to your expectations; all the better if you were just a little bit wrong or didn’t take your theories far enough. Other times, though, waiting for the characters to catch up involves a world of frustration. Flawless is one of those times. A visual cue here, a throwaway line there, and the question of how a notable amount of diamonds escapes a locked vault isn’t much of a question.

Demi Moore in Flawless

Why they disappear, at least, remains somewhat mysterious to the end, but you might be hard pressed to care too deeply. Flawless is probably meant to serve at least in part as a comeback vehicle for Demi Moore, who stars as Laura Quinn, the only woman employed (or at least employed as something other than a secretary) by London Diamond. It’s the 1960s, which the gorgeously spacey sets and Laura’s stiffly stylish clothing would make clear even without the film’s present-day bookends, in which a young features editor meets with an older Laura to interview her for a series of stories about women who broke new ground in her more sexist day (the editor’s seeming obliviousness to her own position in comparison with Laura’s past is, oddly, rather charming).

Laura is a manager, endlessly passed over for promotion by the boys’ club, which runs London Diamond like a machine powered by charcoal suits, cocky privilege and cigarettes (and, the film points out via a gaggle of protestors, the lives of diamond miners). The only person who notices her frustration is the night janitor, Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), who proposes to involve her in his plan to steal a thermos full of diamonds from the basement vault. She refuses, she waffles, she acts shocked at the information he has, and the film watches them both with just enough distance to let us observe how lovely everything is, how cafés are filled with pretty porcelain cups and streets are as cobblestoned and bluish-gray as possible.

But of course Laura agrees, and things go awry. A sleek inspector, Mr. Finch (Lambert Wilson), complicates things slightly, and the push-pull between Laura’s desire to do what she thinks is right and to get what she secretly feels she deserves simmers only slightly. Moore is a strange presence here. She might be aiming for steely, for capable and sharp, but the only scene in which that effect is accomplished is a lovely one in which she takes a Russian businessman in hand effortlessly, outsmarting and outgracing her colleagues. Otherwise, there’s a fixedness to her performance, and, it must be said, to her face, which seems flat and ageless.

Thankfully, we have Michael Caine around to liven things up a bit (and to remind us of other, cleverer heists, like The Italian Job) with his gruffly friendly, slightly deferential Hobbs, whose ordinary presence in the building is his plan’s strongest obvious element. Not everyone could make Hobbs’ final speech to Laura, in which he (naturally) reveals his true motivation, sound like anything more than the bit of exposition that it is — as is very apparent when Laura, in turn, gets her own explanation, her moment in the present day to bring us all up to speed on what came after. Until this point, Flawless is an unremarkably solid film, a mild heist flick with a patina of feminist awareness. But the fun of the heist and the slight pleasure of that consideration of how far we’ve come (and have yet to go) is largely undone by this last scene, a fuzzy finale which sits too awkwardly against what’s come before.

Flawless opens Friday, April 18, at the Bijou.