In 1960, London is on the verge of a new, swinging era, but Oxford-educated American Laura Quinn (Demi Moore, "Bobby," "Mr. Brooks") is being passed over for the seventh time as a managing director for London Diamond Corporation. A confidential postcard commiserates, then is followed up with an anonymous request to meet at a movie theater. Laura is stunned to find the firm's night custodian, Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine, "Sleuth," "Hannah and Her Sisters"), awaiting her to outline a diamond vault revenge robbery that appears to be "Flawless."
Armed with a clever script by debuting screenwriter Edward Anderson, director Michael Radford ("Il Postino," "The Merchant of Venice") has made a film that is at once a heist movie that feels sprung from its time and place and one that casts a modern eye on feminism, Apartheid and even health care. Although not completely flawless, "Flawless" is a solid little gem.
The film is bookended in present day London, where Demi Moore's fresh, fortyish eyes stare out from behind a mask of aging makeup at a young female reporter interviewing women of the 1950s who broke through male barriers. Laura Quinn informs her that this is the first time in forty years she's been a free woman in London and then opens a box and takes out a 168 carat diamond. 'I stole it,' she whispers and we flash back to the young, beautiful executive who had not yet a clue what she would do.
Laura Quinn, all brunette flip, tweed suits, ruby red lips and nails and, of course, diamonds and pearls, appears to be respected by her peers, including Lon Di's chief, Mka (Joss Ackland, playing another South African slave merchant after rolling Krugerrand in "Lethal Weapon 2"). She gets in earlier and leaves later than just about everyone as noted by building guard Ollie (Nathaniel Parker, "Stardust"). When blood diamond protestors turn up at their doors after the Sharpeville riots, it is Laura who suggests an audacious plan to maintain the company's lucrative deal with the Russians while saving face for both. But when Laura finds Mr. Hobbs in the shadows of a showing of "The League of Gentlemen," he tells her that her brains have made her a bulls eye - the Russians have accepted her idea on the condition that only Lon Di's top execs are privy to it, and she, ironically, is not held in that echelon. He assures her that the same inconspicuousness that allows him to be privy to the company's inner workings will also enable him to steal a thermos full of rocks - enough to keep them both for the rest of their lives but not enough to even be noticed.
Laura rejects Hobbs's plan at first, but when an old classmate who'd tried to recruit her informs her that Lon Di is not only calling her performance incompetent, but that their vast reach will ensure she loses her career, she has a change of heart. A slip into the boss's study during a dinner hosted for the Russians for a passcode and all appears on track, but Hobbs pulls off a far headier plan than he laid out for Laura and she finds herself under the interest of Detective Finch (Lambert Wilson, "The Matrix Revolutions," "Private Fears in Public Places").
The first pleasure of Radford's film is how utterly of its time and place it is. Production design by Sophie Becher ("Run Fatboy Run") and art direction by Chris Lowe ("The Constant Gardener," "In Bruges") give us the blue grey city streets, marble foyers and dark wood offices of corporate London (yet shot in Luxembourg!) while Laura's white townhouse flat contrasts expertly with the post-war walkup that is Hobbs's shabby yet homey abode. Hair, costume and makeup all contribute and it is refreshing to see ashtrays constantly in use in the office, just as things really were back then. The second treat is the 'just how did he do it' puzzle of the central heist, followed by the suspense of just how or how not Hobbs and Quinn will extract themselves. Anderson neatly works in redirection that does not smack of cheap trickery, and if the heist reveal isn't as delicious as its initial shock, it is still meat-and-potatoes satisfying. Thirdly, this is smart entertainment that respects its audience's intelligence as can be seen in the scene where Laura and Hobbs 'sync their watches' by signing in and out of the building at the same time. Radford does not cut to what they are writing to make sure we understand the implication. There are also the subtexts of global politics on commerce, the emergence of globalization, the dawn of feminism and the human right to basic health care.
If there is a failing in the film, besides that aging makeup, it is that Radford has allowed Moore's 'smart' female lead to call attention to herself in various ways after the heist has happened after having shown her to be a cool customer in the boardroom. Otherwise, Moore acquits herself well, believable as both an American incorporated into British upper classes and a woman of the period. Michael Caine has a blast playing to his working class Cockney roots and is a pleasure to watch. Lambert Wilson makes his sharply angled Finch positively sexy playing subtle cat to Quinn's mouse - his is a many layered performance. Ackland and Oskar Homolka lookalike Derren Nesbitt ("Where Eagles Dare") play big as the Lon Di chief and his principal underwriter while David Henry humanizes the heady atmosphere as Ackland's son. Nathaniel Parker also adds a note of warmth as the genial watchman.
"Flawless" is a rock solid heist flick with many facets.
Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) is a smart, competent middle level exec at the London Diamond Corporation. But, it is the 1960’s and women do not ascend to the loftiest of corporate positions no matter how smart and hard-working. Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine) is a janitor at the company, nearing retirement with the prospect of a meager pension to live on. Together, this unlikely duo join forces to steal a million pounds in uncut diamonds but only if their plan is “Flawless.”
Well, I just had the pleasure of seeing another period London heist film, “The Bank Job” by Roger Donaldson, and had a great good time with its intricate plot, huge ensemble of characters and twisty-turny story. Michael Radford’s “Flawless” is a lite version of the latter film with Demi Moore and Michael Cain subbing for Jason Statham and the rest of “The Job” ensemble.
Laura is the brains at Lond Di and a fierce negotiator who sets up a lucrative diamond deal with the Russians. The corporate honchos, though, want the deal kept a secret and, unknown to Quinn, plan to fire her to ensure the secrecy. Janitor Hobbs, while making his nightly rounds, chats up Laura and tells her about her pending termination. Hobbs, it seems, is one of those faceless drones that company executives do not see in their midst. As such, the near-retiree is privy to all sorts of information. He decides to let Laura in on his plan to break into the company’s vault and take a thermos full of diamonds that will never be missed.
The “Flawless” script, by Edward Anderson, is not predictable by any means and the heist itself is a big surprise. The film is carefully crafted by Radford and his team with terrific attention to period details - Demi’s costuming front and center in its stylish and elegant authenticity. Cinematography, by Richard Greatrex, production design, by Sophie Becher, and art direction, by Chris Lowe, all contribute the verisimilitude of the film. I give it a B-
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