The new heist movie Flawless isn't merely twice as good as The Bank Job, but it provides a gem of a role for British national treasure Michael Caine. For that matter, it gives Demi Moore her best role in years as Laura Quinn, an unmarried executive at the fictional London Diamond Corporation ("Lon Di") in sexist 1960. Flawless proves to be an enthralling bauble of many facets: part feminist thriller, part "howdunnit" mystery, and all good old-fashioned story.
A fresh victim of career homicide, Quinn is uniquely susceptible to an overture from Caine's Mr. Hobbs, a seemingly unassuming janitor. Over the descades, Hobbs has taken note of many things. "It's extraordinary the conversations people will have in front of cleaners," he explains. "It's like we don't exist." After informing Quinn that he's read her discarded "diary of frustration" (note to self: "don't give up/work harder/you will win"), he has worse news: the company's fearsome CEO (Joss Ackland) has put her head on the chopping block and is sharpening his ax.
Caine's wily widower has an extra-sympathetic reason for sharing this litany of doom: he needs Quinn to help him carry out a long-aborning plan to rob a thermos-ful of diamonds from the company's vault. At first aghast, Quinn can't get the idea out of her mind. She's a woman scorned, and when she agrees to help, she clarifies, "It's not about the money." Hobbs replies, "Nothing important ever is."
Politics both political and personal play a part. Protestors decry a disaster at the company's South African source, which in turn threatens Lon Di's relationship with its Russian partners. When tensions are at their highest, the CEO is called "de factor dictator of an entire nation," a remark he certainly resembles. "War and plunder," Hobbs muses. "The two most reliable sources of income." And yet there's something deeper still behind Hobbs' too-calm demeanor, a match perhaps for Quinn's righteous indignation against her masters. An insightful investigator (Lambert Wilson) senses something off about these two, but will he put together the pieces in time to apprehend the thieves?
First-time screenwriter Edward A. Anderson delivers a sharp script with some nice twists. It has a hole here and a flaw there, but director Michael Radford (The Merchant of Venice) deftly skips over them. His approach is so sound that you'll be forgiven for wondering at first if the story is based, like The Bank Job, on a true one. Indeed, part of the fun is the period verisimilitude, a swankiness of production design (Sophie Becher), photography (Richard Greatrex), costume (Dinah Collin) and music (Stephen Warbeck). Dave Brubeck's 1959 "Take Five" comes in to transport us to the dawn of the swinging '60s, sweeping away a present-day framing device that's as corny as the rest of the film is assured.