It’s gotta mean something, right? In only the first few months of 2008 we’ve seen more than one — more than two — movies about daring, honking-big robberies pulled off by little people who feel, perhaps justifiably so, that they’ve been cheated by life while other fat lucky bastards have made out at their expense, and that it’s time for some ironic payback… and some getting rich in the process. It’s gotta be reflecting something in the zeitgeist about the slo-mo collapse of the economy we’ve been watching for years now, and its coming to a head, and the anger that lots of ordinary folks are feeling as they watch gas and food prices skyrocket and salaries stagnate and mortage rates adjust evilly.
So we had Mad Money, about women overlooked by their male “betters” who would never assume that a couple of chicks could subvert the (seemingly) impressive security of a Federal Reserve bank. And we’ve had The Bank Job, about a gang of minor crooks hoodwinked into patsying a London bank-vault heist that, for fun, pushes some hot buttons with its themes of government corruption and the abandonment by the mass media of its journalistic duties.
And now we have Flawless, about a 1960 robbery of a London diamond storehouse that tries really really hard to be relevant in a contemporary way and ends up being just sort of tepid and lukewarm and unable to inspire the kind of entertaining fury that its recent fellows have. Yeah for sticking it to The Man and taking away his ill-gotten gains. Boo for being so dull about it. It would be taking it too far to snark that Flawless is anything but, because it’s not exactly terrible. It’s just kind of terribly earnest and, as a result, terribly dull.
Here’s the deal: Demi Moore (Bobby, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) is Laura Quinn, the only female executive at a London diamond exchange in the pre-Betty Friedan era in which women are not exactly appreciated as anything other than happy housewives. She keeps getting passed over for promotions that she clearly deserves — she’s smarter than half the guys she works with — because, you know: she has a vagina. So she’s prime pickin’s for janitor Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine: The Prestige, Children of Men), who thinks he’s come up with a foolproof way to walk a hundred million dollars’ or whatever’s worth of pretty rocks out of the exchange… he just needs the help of an executive who’s unhappy enough to want to rip off the company.
It must be said that first-time scriptwriter Edward Anderson and director Michael Radford (The Merchant of Venice) create a bit of intriguing suspense via the method that Hobbes uses to transport a lot of diamonds out of a secure vault over the course of a single overnight janitorial shift. We don’t know how he pulled it off for a long stretch in the middle of the film, and though I thought I had guessed his method, I was uncertain enough — and the film clever enough, at least in this small instance — that I felt vindicated but not cheated to discover, in the end, that I was pretty much right. At least in this small aspect, Flawless kept me on the edge of my seat, almost literally in places. Caine’s sweet, meek, put-upon old man is a tricksy enogh portrayal that it’s easy to see that whichever direction the actor took the character in would have been fascinating.
Alas for poor Moore, though, who tries her best to be serious and actorly and professional and all, and so ends up with a Miss Quinn who is all stiff and actorly, and not a particularly significant or even mildly interesting depiction of a woman in her unusual position for the time. Though some of the blame for that surely goes to Anderson and Radford as well: the opening montage of busy businesswomen striding importantly around London, talking urgently on their cell phones, emerging authoritatively from limos, and the like imparts a sense that this will be more than merely a story about a clever theft, that it might have a little bit of something to say about being careful of underestimating smart women. But Moore and the story she’s trying to navigate Quinn through end up leaving the character high and dry in a way that seems to vindicate the dismissal of her male bosses and colleagues. Which might be dramatically acceptable in a story with a different point, but not in one that appears to believe it is her champion.