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In a fashionable restaurant, an 80-year-old woman tells her story to a writer for a London newspaper. The story is about how she stole a flawless, 168-carat diamond back in 1960....

The Setup

Makeup, hair, cosumes, all add to the trip back in time
Makeup, hair, cosumes, all add to the trip back in time

Laura (Demi Moore) works at London Diamond (Lon Di). She is the highest ranking woman at the firm, but she is still repeatedly passed over for senior positions by men. When she’s feeling particularly resentful, she dreams of walking out of work with diamonds hidden on her person.

She sends herself notes from day to day — inspirational messages to keep herself focused. One day her message has been changed by a strange hand. It was Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), one of the invisible janitors at Lon Di. He knows about Laura’s resentment and uses it to win her to his side. He’s planning to steal a handful of uncut diamonds, sneaking in to the vault and sneaking them out in his thermos. Lon Di has so many diamonds it probably won’t even notice the few missing gems, yet it will be enough for both of them to retire comfortably. He asks Laura to learn the combination to the vault from one of her bosses.

Hobbs has worked out all of the details, having fantasized about this ever since his wife died several years ago. There are a few hitches, but when the appointed hour comes, he and Laura put their plan into action.

The first wrinkle in the story looks like a double cross. Mr. Hobbs has done something, but it’s not what he told Laura he was going to do, and now she’s in deeper than she knows. It’s also the last wrinkle I’ll mention so that I don’t spoil the fun.

Familiar Territory

Flawless is a good heist movie with plenty of tension. For example, a new security system is installed at Lon Di just days before Laura and Hobbs were going to carry out their plan. Luckily, it’s a new system for the security team, too, and Hobbs thinks they can work around it. Later, there’s also a nice bit of cat and mouse between Laura and an investigator (there’s also a nice bit of chemistry). And of course, there is at least one last-act surprise.

Michael Caine is perfectly cast as a jewel thief, as he has been many times before. In fact, it might be fair to say he’s a little too perfect for the role. As Mr. Hobbs he’s almost more icon than actor, which can be a distraction.

Flawless invites comparison to Inside Man. In both movies, the audience is kept in the dark about how the thieves will get away with the loot. That gimmick adds to the intrigue, at least while you’re watching the movies. But after the credits roll, Inside Man still seems ingenious, whereas Flawless seems mundane. It keeps us guessing, but once it reveals its secret, it doesn’t seem like such a secret after all. More importantly, it seems like the investigators probably shouldn’t have been as clueless as the plot requires them to be.

Reliving the 1960s

The most impressive piece of work on the film is from production designer Sophie Becher (Alfie, 2004), who creates a convincing 1960 London. A few key sets are very impressive, like the lobby of Lon Di, with its many small facet-shaped windows, and the company boardroom with the giant framed maps of Lon Di’s operations. Costumes, hair, ash trays (everybody smokes), shoes... all add to the trip back in time.

The most grating mistakes are in the score. After setting the scene with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, the score becomes a traditional, symphonic movie score. It heads in the direction of post-bop jazz, but it doesn’t go far enough; the movie is set in the 1960s, but the score is set in the present.

Flawless also overuses its symphonic score. Brian DePalma stole the diamond-theft scene from Topkapi for Mission: Impossible, and he was smart enough to steal the silence on the soundtrack. The silence makes you hold your breath, lest the slightest cough or rustle foil the plan. The centerpiece of Flawless, however, resorts to typical “tense” movie music, which works, but not as well as silence.

The strangest, and to me, dumbest mistake in the music happens at the very end. As the last shot hits the screen, we get Take Five again — a great tune for this film — the smooth melody hides a sophisticated and intricate structure. But after about five seconds, as the film fades to black, the generic symphonic stuff starts up again, jarring you out of any afterglow you might have been trying to nurse. It’s as though the music editor doesn’t want you to stick around and see his name in the credits.

Diamonds Aren’t Forever

The bookending story is the final mistake I’ll mention. The movie spends a few minutes on Laura telling the reporter that stealing the 168-carat diamond was offset by a lifetime of good deeds. But we don’t care. The modern-day scenes are a distraction. They are a cheap, tin setting for this well-cut little gem. But it’s the gem that draws your eye, and, luckily, it’s easy enough to ignore the tin.

There are better heist films than Flawless. But none of them are showing at your local movie theater this month.

  • denia: I wish there was a way to purchase the final score which runs through the credits. Is there one out there? January 16, 2009 reply