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More Like A Rough Cut, Unpolished Gem

Directed by Michael Radford (The Merchant of Venice, Il Postino, 1984) and written by Edward Anderson, Flawless is a 60s-set heist film starring one old pro, Michael Caine, and co-starring another, less-old pro, Demi Moore, wending their way through a maze of mostly predictable obstacles on their way to a big money day, a serious beatdown, and pleasant smiles all around. Although Flawless is smoothly paced, skillfully directed, it is far from the perfection suggested by the title. However, it’s as entertaining as a character-first, heist-second film can be.

Flawless is set in 1960, London. Laura Quinn (Moore), a middle manager with the London Diamond Corporation (LonDi for short), fails to get the hoped-for promotion to managing director. As the only woman at the LDC, she’s worked her way up as far as she can go. While her efforts have been recognized sufficiently to give her access to the CEO, Sir Milton Ashtoncroft (Joss Ackland), she’s hit the proverbial glass ceiling. After a mining accident in South Africa leaves more than a hundred miners dead, negative press, fueled by protests, has made the Russians rethink their contract with LonDi. Quinn offers an elegant solution, which Ashtoncroft dutifully suggests, but her knowledge of the transaction proves to be a liability.

Mr. Hobbs (Caine), an elderly night janitor on the verge of retiring, approaches her with an audacious proposal: robbing LonDi of diamonds worth millions of dollars. Hobbs has a problem, though. The diamonds are kept securely hidden inside a seemingly impregnable vault. Only two men, one of them being Ashtoncroft, know the combination of the lock (which is changed weekly). Hobbs works Quinn over, exposing her insecurities and her bitterness at being passed over. But when LonDi installs newfangled surveillance cameras, Hobbs’ has to find a way to take them into account without getting caught or being investigated by LonDi’s chief insurance investigator, Finch (Lambert Wilson).

Story wise, there isn’t much new or original to be found in Flawless, everything leads to and from the heist, focusing first on Quinn and Hobbs’ unlikely alliance and post-heist, the rising tension as suspicion falls on them and Quinn begins to distrust Hobbs’ motives. The South African mine accident, the protests, and the negative press are more background and context than meaningful political or social commentary.

Similarly, Quinn’s status as a businesswoman in the retrograde world of 1960 London serves primarily as motivation for Quinn’s actions and not as an opportunity for a serious exploration of the limited life choices women faced back then. The screenplay focuses more on setting up two mismatched, if relatable, characters, keeping Hobbs’ motivations slightly murky, and providing enough backroom machinations to add tension and suspense to the proceedings, all of which Anderson’s script does expertly.

Thankfully, Moore plays Quinn straight, will minimal affectation and a subdued emotional palette. Moore wasn’t trying as hard as Sharon Stone did two years ago with the campy Basic Instinct 2, but then again Quinn isn’t a sexpot/femme fatale. While Moore’s accent isn’t particularly persuasive, it’s smartly explained away in the screenplay (she’s an American who studied at Oxford and decided to remain in England after graduation).

The main reason to watch Flawless, though, is Michael Caine. Caine gives another in a long series of understated, lived-in performances as a man who’s been forced to live with personal and professional disappointments, but sees a better life for himself, if only he can summon the courage (and a willing partner) to pull it off. Caine’s performance here is just as much a nod to his turns in The Italian Job, The Billion Dollar Brain, and Gambit, other breezily engaging heist films he appeared in early on in his decades long career.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars