Many of you may recall the fall of 2006, the great and magnificent season of magician dramas, namely The Illusionist and The Prestige, which were released only one month apart. I dug both movies, and while I thought it was the performances in both (save for ScarJo and her Jos Jos) that made them as good as they were, the storylines were pretty stellar as well. And while ultimately I preferred The Prestige (Christian Bale and Michael Caine barely edged out Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti in the thespian department), the conclusion has to that film nevertheless always felt slightly unsatisfying. In The Illusionist, like most viewers, I knew what the big twist was and I knew where it was going fairly early on (the clues were too obvious to miss), so I could simply sit back and enjoy the actressin’. On the other hand, though it may have been obvious to some, The Prestige stumped the hell out of me. I had no clue how Alfred Borden managed to pull off the Transported Man, and the not knowing preoccupied my mind to such an extent that the ultimate reveal, while surprising to me, was still something of a disappointment. It made sense, but I was still left with an “is that all there is?” feeling. I wanted more, goddamnit — some clever MacGyver shit would blow my mind. I didn’t get to truly appreciate The Prestige until the second viewing, when I could simply focus on the brilliant performances that Christopher Nolan coaxed out of his cast.
To a lesser extent (much lesser, given the presence of Demi Moore), I had a similar experience watching Flawless. It’s a slow-moving, burn-your-hand engrossing heist film that, for much of the running time, leaves you bewildered, scratching your head and wondering, “How the hell did he pull that off?” But that’s also the film’s undoing; though the ultimate reveal makes perfect sense, it’s nevertheless disappointing, not because it’s preposterous (see, Identity), but because it’s not as cool as you were hoping it’d be (see Prestige). It leaves you with the same “Oh … hmph,” feeling you had after the first time you had sex (don’t worry, youngins — it gets better; just keep plugging away; you’ll get the hang of it, by gum!) Unlike The Prestige, however, the rest of Flawless isn’t nearly good enough to overcome its disappointing finale. Once you know how it happened, the preceding 100 minutes swoops in and delivers a sucker punch that retroactively imbues the entire experience with a sense of tedium.
In fact, without the suspense, there’s not much to Flawless. It opens with a reporter in the present day asking an old lady with a bad British accent and terrible makeup to recount her days as the first and only female managing director of Lon Di Diamond, a company that in the 1960s de facto ruled South Africa and distributed most of the world’s diamonds. The geriatric woman pulls out a huge diamond, tells the reporter that she stole it back in the day, and then recounts her story, a la Titanic.
That old woman is Laura Quinn (Demi Moore), who in the ’60s is a solitary, work-driven career executive in a stuffy white-male-dominated environment who has been passed over for promotion six times by lesser qualified men. Suffice to say, she has something of a bitter streak. So, when the bumbling, soon-to-retire janitor, Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), takes Laura aside and tells her that he overheard that she was about to get canned, Laura becomes amenable to Mr. Hobbs’ plan to break into the company’s bank vault and steal a thermos full of diamonds. Given the amount of diamonds in the safe (two tons), Laura figures no one will miss the diamonds and agrees to help Mr. Hobbs in his efforts. The hang-up, however, is that the first-generation video cameras only give the limpy Hobbs 60 seconds to run his janitorial supplies down a long hall, dial in the combination, open a giant safe door, and get himself inside the vault.
Director Michael Radford (Il Postino) takes us as far as the safe before cutting away to the next day, when it’s revealed that the entire vault’s inventory is (gasp!) gone, leaving us to wonder how the hell a hobbling old janitor managed to pull off that feat without anyone noticing. It’s a pretty good set-up, too, and Radford does an excellent job of milking it for all its worth; unfortunately, he’s dealing with immobile, starved cattle with mad cow expression. Flawless is only as good as long as it’s a mystery; once that’s revealed, you almost wish the entire movie had been as bad as the soul-crushing anti-climax just to save you from the disappointment.
Still, unlike Demi Moore, the film isn’t a total waste. Richard Greatex’s cinematography is some kind of amazing; he and Radford imbue the film with a beautiful, unmistakable aesthetic last seen in 60’s crime thrillers. And, as always, if you’re into doddering Michael Caine roles, it’s hard to beat this one; indeed, only Morgan Freeman can complete with Caine’s ability to make a tired platitude sound profound. Sadly, his remarkable performance is nearly completely offset by Demi Moore’s; she tries too hard to look like she’s not trying too hard. There’s absolutely no life in her performance, just glum stodginess, and she may be one of the few Hollywood actresses who could make smoking in the 1960s look unglamorous (she’s always presented with a cigarette puffed down to the filter, like little nubbins of cancer, when everyone knows that Joan Crawford — who Demi is clearly trying to imitate — was never seen with anything less than half a ciggy). Likewise, Flawless is akin to a former addict attempting to satiate a five-year hankerin’ for a Parliament Light — sure, the first few puffs are exhilarating, but then the headache sets in, and then you wish you’d quit puffing away before the tobacco left a taste of ass in your mouth that you still taste the next morning.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
Flawless / Dustin Rowles
Film | March 31, 2008 | Comments ()