Dir: Michael Radford. UK/Luxembourg 2007. 105 mins.
A diamond heist thriller set in pre-swinging London circa 1960, Flawless is polished but hollow. It's not just the setting that is retro: the story itself feels a little old-fashioned, like The Day they Robbed the Bank of England or Rififi with fewer accomplices and a large dose of political correctness in the denouement. For a heist movie, Flawless takes itself a little too seriously, but it's not this that lets the side down in the end so much as the lack of glitter in the high-carat poster pairing. The relationship between Demi Moore's ambitious diamond corp staffer frustrated by male chauvinism and Michael Caine's elderly janitor with a grudge never really sparkles.
Still, Michael Radford's latest moves along at a decent pace, spiced up by some tasty costumes and locations and a cool jazz soundtrack. It's worth a spin above all for its period atmosphere - which captures austere but stylish pre-Beatles London in the same way that Catch Me If You Can nailed mid-sixties America. After its world premiere as the closing film of the San Sebastian film festival, Flawless rolls out in Spain on 5 October - a release that will be watched closely by distributors in other territories that have yet to bite.
A 'years later' present-day intro makes for a wobbly start, not least because Demi Moore has been aged to look like an elderly transvestite. But we're soon back in London in 1960, in the headquarters of the London Diamond Corporation, or 'Lon.Di'. Moore plays Laura Quinn, a smart, ambitious, elegantly dressed and coiffed senior negotiator who is trying to get ahead in this male-dominated world - but who keeps getting passed over for promotion in favour of less able male colleagues.
Caine is Hobbs, a Cockney janitor in his seventies who is less harmless and doddering than he seems. Hobbs uses his invisibility within the company to glean information that will help him to pull off the ultimate heist. When he discovers (thanks to the angry motivational notes that she helpfully scribbles and bins) that Laura is a proto-feminist who hates her superiors, Hobbs enlists her help.
First-time screenwriter Edward A. Anderson places the heist in the middle, giving the job a twist that shifts our attention neatly from glamorous accomplice to shambling mastermind, and turns Quinn into both suspect and co-investigator. But that's it for originality: there's not enough else going on in what turns out to be a one-trick story.
There's a mild, kneejerk political critique of the fact that Lon.Di's wealth is based on exploitation, while its principal guarantor is a repulsive fatcat who has grown rich on health insurance scams.
There's some 'two nations' counterpoint too, as we move from the palatial residence of Lon.Di chairman Milton Ashtoncroft (an enjoyable Joss Ackland) to the pubs, dog track and dingy attic flat that is Hobbs' world. But with Caine settling into his Cockney geezer act as into a warm bath, and Moore playing Quinn with so much brittle poise it's difficult to feel much at all for her, this background cross-hatching is not enough to raise Flawless out of the 'watchable but forgettable' category.
The only near-flawless parts of the exercise are the visuals: especially the costumes (Quinn is an island of sober Parisian elegance in a sea of Austin Reed suits) and the stylish production design.
Using Luxembourg interiors to stand in for London may sound like one of those bizarre co-production requirements, but the principality's Grand Theatre, an eclectic example of sixties post-modernism, works well as Lon.Di's headquarters, especially when we first see it to the strains of Dave Brubeck's Take Five.
But Radford's latest can't sustain this ambitious pitch for Modesty Blaise attitude. The ending, in particular, is a limp and cloying affair, a descent into sentimentality of a film that never quite has the courage to be cool.
Future Films (UK)
Delux Productions (Lux)
Hyde Park International (UK)
Jimmy De Brabant
Edward A. Anderson