Monday, June 2, 2008

Demi Moore's Flawless

By David Luhrssen
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Nowadays the streets of London and any cosmopolitan metropolis are filled with professional women, but in London, 1960, Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) is nearly alone in a man�s world. She is 38, never married and determined against gnawing doubts to make a career in a world where few women had careers. Each morning Laura sails into the brightly polished, coldly modern offices of the giant London Diamond consortium like a frigate at full steam. She reveals no emotion as she steadies herself for the challenge of wearing a skirt in an old boy�s club.

Through intelligence and diligence, Laura became the first female manager for a company that 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 swallows her resentment. Soon enough, she�s drawn into a daring, impeccably plotted robbery of her firm�s office. She will help another disgruntled employee, the elderly janitor Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), who has devised a perfect plan. All she needs to do is steal the entry code for the diamond vault below the firm�s hard-edged headquarters. He will do the rest.

Directed by Michael Radford (Il Postino), Flawless moves as efficiently as the montage on the diamond trade behind the opening credits, 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 married women. 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.

Flawless, out now on DVD, is the rare contemporary movie that gets better upon second viewing. The script has depths not always apparent the first time and the story, despite a feel good ending that still seems tacked on, is otherwise tightly composed with no wasted details or motion. Flawless is a suspenseful period thriller populated by characters whose potential was curbed by a world that gave them few chances.

Moore�s performance is suitably close to her breast, allowing Caine to dominate every scene where Hobbs appears. With cloth cap in hand and an affable show of humility, Hobbs is well aware that he passes unnoticed but in plain sight down the chilly 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, divines the well of her bitterness and taps 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.

The film reaches its highest peaks 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; 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 Alfred Hitchcock 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 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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