Michael Radford's Flawless is a heist movie, but it has little interest in being something as trivial and unimportant as a mere genre piece. Yes, it has some of the conventional heist movie elements: there's an impossible mission with a potentially huge payoff, lots of stealthy preparation and a third act filled with twists and betrayals. However, the film seems almost desperate to convince us that the heist material is merely a backdrop for a Very Important Movie about Very Important Things. This is a movie about women breaking through the glass ceiling, about greedy corporations profiting from blood diamonds, about the way members of the British working class are underappreciated by their superiors, about love and revenge and charity and greatness. Those are noble enough subjects, but the film's treatment of almost all of them feels superficial: this is a potentially entertaining little crime movie posturing as bloated Oscar bait.
The film begins in the early 21st century, as a young journalist (Natalie Dormer, Game of Thrones) sits down with Laura Quinn (Demi Moore, G.I. Jane), the latest subject of her ongoing “Women Who Led” series. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Laura was the only female manager (not to mention the only American manager) at the prestigious London Diamond Corporation. We flash back to 1960, where we find the company in the midst of a great deal of political turmoil and Ms. Moore freed of her old-age makeup. The company is currently in danger of losing their contract with the Russians, but Laura thinks she may have a solution. Despite her consistently good advice on the matter (and many previous matters), she is once again passed over for a promotion.
Later on, Laura receives a bit of good-natured sympathy from Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine, The Dark Knight), the company janitor. After a few rounds of friendly chatter, Mr. Hobbs reveals that he has more than sympathy to offer: he's planning to rob the company, and he wants to cut Laura in on the deal. He's doing this because he needs her help, of course. She's able to access certain information that he needs in order to open the company's massive vault, and he's able to get into the vault without being noticed. Eventually, she agrees, and the game is afoot.
Caine's performance is easily the best thing about the film. He's such a naturally convincing actor, and he sells every single one of the slightly overwrought monologues he's given (his first scene is an odd meditation on the Sermon on the Mount). He's also the only part of the film's “serious” side that works exceptionally well: in his sad eyes, you can see just a faint hint of the anger driving this ambitious scheme. He's regarded as a second-class citizen by the wealthy men in suits who work in the same building, and they feel comfortable discussing confidential information in his presence. What could Mr. Hobbs possibly do with that information? He's just a janitor, after all.
Unfortunately, Moore's performance is less persuasive. While I liked her unusual diction (she nails the accent of an American woman who's been living in London for quite some time), she isn't quite capable of revealing her character's complicated motives and conflicted desires. The film's efforts to connect her role in the robbery to some sort of defiant feminism tend to feel forced, as does the odd romance of sorts that begins to develop between Laura and a suspicious insurance investigator (Lambert Wilson, The Matrix Reloaded).
The film's familiar scenes of plotting and scheming feel like they ought to be pretty entertaining, but Michael Radford's direction is too somber and flat to give the movie any real zip. You sense the tone the movie is going for when hip little jazz numbers start popping up on the soundtrack, but the film is too laboriously constructed to be cool. Radford has always been better at gloom than fun, a tendency most strikingly revealed in his adaptation of The Merchant of Venice (where the Shylock/Antonio scenes shined and the romantic comedy scenes fizzled). It's no wonder that his best movie remains his adaptation of 1984 – source material well-suited to his tendency to create a heavy, downbeat setting.
The closing scenes attempt to do a variation on the routine offered by The Usual Suspects – a series of big revelations underscored by people looking shocked. The problem is that the revelations are neither shocking nor interesting, so the movie unavoidably feel as phony as a glass diamond. That's unfortunate enough, but then we're asked to contend with a final scene which applies a completely out-of-left-field moral to the tale we've just seen. Anyone who names a film Flawless is begging for cheap jokes, but the irony feels awfully sharp in this case.
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release Year: 2007