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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Flawless

A Demi Moore thriller

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Hitchcock preferred blondes, but in Flawless, the brunette Demi Moore fills the pumps once occupied by Janet Leigh, Kim Novak and Eva Saint Marie. Moore plays Laura Quinn, an unfulfilled American expatriate in London. It’s 1960. She is 38, never married and determined to make a career in a world where few women had careers. Laura sails each morning into the offices of the giant London Diamond consortium like a frigate at full steam, impassive, ready for the challenge of wearing a skirt in an old boy’s club.

Through intelligence and diligence, she became the first female manager for a company that virtually controls the world market through ownership of South Africa’s diamond mines. But intelligence and diligence aren’t enough. Passed over for every promotion, Laura quietly nurtures her resentment. When an opportunity presents itself, Laura decides to participate in a daring, carefully plotted robbery of her firm’s vault. She will help another person of grievance, the elderly janitor Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), who has devised a plan. All she needs to do is steal the entry code for the diamond vault below the firm’s hard-edged, architecturally modern headquarters.

Directed by Michael Radford (Il Postino), Flawless moves as efficiently as the story shown behind the opening credits—a montage on the diamond trade beginning with dark hands sifting for treasure in a muddy riverbed and continuing through the cutting process that transforms raw stones into the multifaceted gems that gleam from the fingers of women engaged to be married. The period details are well executed. Laura has a simply smashing flat with Scandinavian modern furniture and cool jazz LPs spinning on her turntable through the lonely nights. Alas, one can’t call the film flawless. The compression of the story doesn’t allow for character developments that seem tacked on for a feel-good finish. Still, Flawless is a suspenseful period thriller populated by characters whose potential was curbed by a world that gave them few chances.

Caine tends to dominate every scene where Hobbs appears. With cloth cap in hand and an affable show of being humble, Hobbs is well aware that he passes unnoticed but in plain sight down the cold, marbled corridors of wealth. He’s a clever Cockney who has had years to devise the perfect crime while pushing his mop through the night shift.

Amusing himself by reading discarded office memos, he surprises Laura by showing her an order that will terminate her employment in several weeks’ time. “I have a proposal to put to you,” he begins. She is appalled at the very idea of theft, but Hobbs, a persuasive old devil, locates the well of her bitterness and draws from it to sustain his own enterprise. He explains himself by saying that the meager pension offered by London Diamond will be a slender reed to support his upcoming retirement, but his motives run deeper than money.

Laura has no idea how profoundly he hates a certain well-placed crook in the city of London or the scope of his robbery scheme.

Flawless reaches its highest pitch of suspense as Laura sneaks into the study of London Diamond’s owner, slipping away from an elegant reception at his mansion (a favorite Hitchcock device) to find the code to the vault, and later in the seconds-count execution of the heist. Silent sentinels in the form of cameras watch over every corridor of the London Diamond offices, but Laura identifies a flaw in the system, one-minute gaps on the closed-circuit screen that allow the spry old janitor time to enter and exit the vault unseen.

Flawless makes explicit a theme implied in several of Hitchcock’s films: the frustrated, subordinate and dependent existence of women in a work world dominated by men. And there is a familiar character from many Hitchcock-era dramas: the eerily calm investigator alert to all discrepancies and contradictions. In Flawless it’s a bird-like man with the apposite name of Finch. Are his appraising eyes seeing through Laura’s story or is he merely checking out her legs?
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