Michael Radford’s Flawless may not quite live up to the daunting implication of its title, but as a solid piece of beautifully acted and precisely written filmmaking, you’ll find nothing better. Once again upon exiting the theater, I found myself running into the nice lady who guessed how many stars I would give Married Life a few weeks ago—only this time she erred a little on the side of caution, guessing four stars when I was already pretty sure this was worth four and a half. Two days after seeing the film, it’s still worth that extra half star.
After a slightly dodgy start—mostly due to the less than thoroughly convincing old-age makeup festooning Demi Moore’s face—Flawless hits its stride as soon as it moves to the flashback that makes up the bulk of the movie. The bygone era is immediately evoked by Dave Brubeck’s 1960 hit “Take Five.” It’s a brilliant soundtrack choice, conjuring up both the “advanced” mood of the new decade with the then unusual sound of a tune in 5/4 time, while also letting us know that things are not quite modern in the same manner in which we think of the term. That last fact is brought home immediately when we find that not only is Laura Quinn (Moore) the only female executive at the London Diamond Corporation, but she’s also an executive who keeps getting passed over for promotion in favor of less talented, male colleagues.
Her cleverness, in fact, works against her when she hits upon a scheme that will privately extend a contract with the Soviet Union, while publicly allowing the Soviet government to denounce the corporation. The problem is that the Soviets will only go along with the plan if it’s known only to the firm’s directors and no other employees, meaning that Laura will soon find herself out of a job. Worse, machinery is in place that assures she won’t find similar employment elsewhere. All of this makes her the perfect target for a plot being hatched by self-effacing cockney janitor Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine).
Hobbs has a plan that will satisfactorily augment his less-than-overwhelming pension and allow Laura to have her revenge on the company. It’s a fairly simple plan that should net them both a cool million in diamonds that will make such a small dent in the firm’s stock that they won’t even be missed. However, when security cameras are installed, the scheme quickly falls apart—until Laura spots a flaw in the security. The monitored screens show images in rotation and every area has a full minute of unmonitored breathing room.
This probably sounds like the setup for a straightforward heist movie—an idea reinforced by having Hobbs tell Laura his plot in a movie house where Basil Dearden’s caper film The League of Gentlemen (1960) is playing. To some degree, Flawless is a heist picture. All the expected tropes are in place—the near misses, the clever plotting, the convolutions, the bits of suspense—but something rather remarkable takes place when first-time screenwriter Edward Anderson gets to the heist itself. Oh, he puts in a couple of suspenseful touches, but the heist is quickly revealed as not being the movie’s centerpiece. In fact, we see very little of it, because it paves the way for a surprise. The real interest lies in what comes after the robbery.
Owing to the nature of the film, it would do it a disservice to reveal any more of the plot. Indeed, Flawless is one of the few movies of recent memory where so much of the audience interest lies in wondering just what is going on, why and what will happen next. And both Anderson’s script and Radford’s direction make the most of this approach.
It goes without saying that Michael Caine is as good as the film’s title. All of Caine’s more dubious career choices seem to have come in middle age. As an elder statesman of movie stardom, his bad moves have been limited to bolstering the occasional lame comedy. And I don’t think that Joss Ackland has ever given a bad performance, even while being in some incredible trash. (Catch him sometime in the TV film biopic on C.S. Lewis, Shadowlands (1985), and compare his performance with Anthony Hopkins’ schmaltz fest in the 1991 feature of the same name.) The real surprise of Flawless is Demi Moore. If you thought she was good in Bobby (2006) and Mr. Brooks (2007)—and she was—you’re still not prepared for how very good she is here. She holds her own against Caine – and that says it all.
For solid, intelligent, adult entertainment, there’s nothing out there right now that can touch Flawless. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.