Flawless (United Kingdom/Luxembourg, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Flawless is the fourth heist movie to reach U.S. screens in the past twelve months, surfacing in the wake of Oceans 13, Mad Money, and The Bank Job. While Flawless follows the rules of the genre, it does so in a kindler, gentler manner. This movie has no chases or killings and lacks many of the violent trappings audiences have come to expect from heist movies. In fact, one could make a convincing argument that, although the production is primarily about the planning, execution, and aftermath of the crime, it's actually an unconventional love story about one man's posthumous valentine to a beloved wife.

Heist movies have always been cinematic staples but never have they been as popular as in recent years. It's easy to understand the appeal of a well-made example - there's pleasure to be found in the twists and turns of the script. But in an era when corporations are increasingly demonized, there may be an additional vicarious thrill in a story that details how the "little guy" (represented by the criminals committing the heist) outsmarts the faceless giant. By their nature, heist movies cause viewers to identify with the thieves; this is made easier in something like Flawless where there's moral justification for an act of lawlessness.

Flawless takes place in 1960 at the London Diamond Company, which has all but cornered the market on diamonds. Its vaults are overflowing with more than 2 tons of uncut stones and its chairman (Joss Ackland) cares little for the political woes of South Africa, where they originate. Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) is the only female manager in the company, and she has had to work longer hours than her male counterparts to attain this position. Nevertheless, that doesn't prevent her from being repeatedly passed over for promotion nor does it shield her when a business stratagem of her devising makes her expendable. A janitor named Hobbs (Michael Caine) sees a way in which her impending dismissal could benefit them both. He has devised a "foolproof" plan to rob a few million pounds' worth of diamonds from the vault but he needs a partner - someone with access to the chairman's house and the vault codes which are locked in his safe. That someone is Laura. Embittered by her treatment at the hands of her superiors, she agrees to help Hobbs, but there are complications (as there must always be in a heist movie) and Hobbs' scheme isn't as straightforward as the one he confides to Laura. The London Diamond Company might not notice the theft of a small number of stones, but they will notice what Hobbs intends to accomplish.

At the heart of Flawless lies a mystery - one that takes both the viewer and the characters by surprise and requires some ingenuity to unravel. While some members of the audience may guess at what has happened (it is foreshadowed, albeit in a subtle manner), most will not until director Michael Radford is almost ready for the "reveal." As is often the case with heist movies, this one is riddled with minor inconsistencies and larger holes, but many of these are not apparent during the initial viewing and don't become clear until after the end credits have rolled. The rigorous tying of loose ends is not the goal of Flawless' screenplay.

Michael Caine anchors the film with his portrayal of a man who's after far more than a bump to his pension fund. Caine can make even the most bland character seem interesting and, while Hobbs is not the best-defined protagonist ever to venture into a heist, Caine deepens and enriches him. His short monologue late in the film is touching. This is Caine's second outing with Demi Moore, although both would probably prefer to forget the first one (Blame It on Rio). Moore is considerably less impressive than Caine and it shows most forcefully when they share the screen. She's flat and at times unconvincing. It doesn't help that her British accent irregularly comes and goes. It's so inconsistent that the script has to throw out a line to explain it. (She's an American who has been living in England for 20 years.) Joss Ackland gets to play a ruthless despot - he's especially good at those. Who can forget his "diplomatic immunity" refrain from Lethal Weapon 2? Lambert Wilson is the no-nonsense crime investigator Finch, who shows up in the second half of Flawless and develops a connection with Laura.

With this movie, Radford gets to touch on some "hot" social issues of the day, such as the glass ceiling for career women and the concept of blood diamonds. While these aren't crucial to the central story elements, they provide context for what transpires and allow Laura and Hobbs to take the moral high ground. Their act is unquestionably lawless, but it's hard to argue that there's an element of justice to it. This goes back to one of the reasons many viewers watch heist movies - to see David triumph over Goliath. The victory is more sweet when David is fighting the battle for something less ignominious than personal gain. As heist films go, Radford has crafted an engaging, if not especially memorable one, with Flawless. It's good disposable entertainment that offers the right mix of character identification, plot unpredictability, and suspense to keep viewers interested throughout. Because this is being released under the umbrella of Mark Cuban's empire, it is showing up both theatrically and on pay-per-view TV around the same time, which will allow those who avoid multiplexes to see this in the comfort of their living rooms.

Flawless (United Kingdom/Luxembourg, 2008)

Director: Michael Radford
Cast: Demi Moore, Michael Caine, Joss Ackland, Lambert Wilson, Derren Nesbitt
Screenplay: Edward Anderson
Cinematography: Richard Greatrex
U.S. Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2008-03-28
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1