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Flawless’ Laura Quinn is a businesswoman who sends herself notes such as “Work harder,” the better to stay motivated as she’s increasingly crushed against the glass ceiling of the diamond industry in 1960. Here’s a note to Demi Moore, who wears Laura’s tailored suits and red lipstick nicely but otherwise could use a little career guidance herself: Don’t attempt British accents. Don’t let yourself be “aged” by rubbery granny makeup that would frighten children. And for God’s sake, stay away from anything resembling those potboilers you did in the mid-’90s, with their succinct titles, generic-thriller scores, and plot holes you could punt your MTV Movie Award through.
Flawless commits all of the above sins and more. Directed by The Merchant of Venice’s Michael Radford and co-starring Michael Caine, the story aims to be a quaint, classy crime drama about two London Diamond Corporation employees who conspire to grab themselves a little something on their way out the door. But its quaintness comes off as laughably old-fashioned, and instead of classy, it’s just plain dull.
The script, by first-timer Edward Anderson, is largely to blame. Flawless is a more serious Mad Money (the plots of both even involve a janitor) set in Mad Men days, and while a good heist should be as exciting to plan as it is to execute regardless of the decade, after movies such as Ocean’s Eleven, it’s just a yawn to hear Laura’s Big Brainstorm that her firm’s security cameras can be outwitted because the images rotate every 60 seconds. The cameras that, by the way, are first turned on the very day she and the aptly named gimp custodian Hobbs (Caine) are set to help themselves to a thermos’ worth of sparklies. And that Hobbs, who has worked at the company for years and claims to know every inch of the place, apparently never noticed being installed.
Both Hobbs and Laura—otherwise upstanding citizens, naturally—have their reasons for committing the crime. He’s near retirement and doesn’t want to spend his last years as a beggar. Hobbs has been planning the burglary for years but approaches Laura for some help when he discovers that her superiors are going to use a radical plan of hers (here a little Blood Diamond politicking takes place). But their partners will only go along with it if Laura is fired. Laura, of course, doesn’t believe Hobbs, but it takes her about 20 seconds to find the paperwork proving he’s right.
For the first hour, Flawless is a lot of atmosphere and little else. Laura chain-smokes, takes bubble baths, and works through solo meals in her silk blouses with a glass of red wine nearby. Jazz is a constant, as is lazy storytelling and dialogue. Laura and Hobbs, for example, have more than one conversation along these lines: “I won’t do it!” “You will!” “OK, I will…no, you’ve gone too far!” “You know you want to.” “You’re right, I do.” At one point, she actually yells, “I want answers, and I want them now!” And God knows no felon can survive the ordeal without hunching over a public bathroom basin—twice. At least Moore’s half-assed accent is given an explanation—she’s an American who’s remained in London after studying at Oxford. (Less forgivable: Radford’s Basic Instinct quote, having Laura attitudinally cross her legs during an interrogation.)
Caine fares a little better, as does the film’s second half, after it’s discovered that Hobbs took the plan a little further than Laura anticipated. It’s not one of his better roles, but Caine still makes the heist itself interesting (when was the last time you saw a slow-moving old man attempt a precision robbery?) and lets a bit of menace peek from under the janitor’s amiable, simple-bloke façade. Even with the twist, however, Flawless is still a slog, needlessly bookended by present-day scenes of Moore in the Jessica Tandy get-up as Laura tells her story to an obnoxious young journalist. (Turns out the whole thing’s actually a feminist manifesto, you see.) A period heist bow-tied with a message could have been a nice package—if only the filmmakers sent themselves a couple of memos, too.