For movie buffs there will be an irresistible nostalgia kick to this period heist movie about the robbery of a London diamond firm. Set in 1960, it involves Laura Quinn (Demi Moore). She’s the only woman executive at the clubby place headed by Sir Milton Ashtoncroft (Joss Ackland), and—after she becomes aware that the company is planning not only to sack her but destroy her career—is enlisted by an aging janitor to join him in a plot to steal a small quantity of stones from the vault, just enough to provide them both with an easy retirement. Of course, the scheme turns out to be something far different than Laura initially believes, and the script by Edward A. Anderson takes numerous twists and turns on the way to a reasonably satisfying denouement.
The nostalgic element derives partially from the fact that the flick is a throwback to the sort of thing that was commonplace in the sixties and seventies and partially from the nifty period recreations (with kudos to production designer Sophie Becher and costumer Dinah Collin, as well as to a musical score that mixes jazz standards with original music by Stephen Warbeck). And it’s given an added fizz when one scene occurs inside a theatre screening “The League of Gentlemen,” Basil Dearden’s 1960 bank robbery yarn featuring Jack Hawkins and a very young Richard Attenborough.
But the real fun for film junkies will be in watching Michael Caine as the manipulative old janitor, Hobbs. It’s a typically shrewd, crowd-pleasing turn from a man who’s a past master of conspiratorial charm; the gleam in his eye is irresistible and his knack for tossing off lines impeccable. The result is like a visit from a favorite relative. And the amusement is enhanced by the fact that in his earlier days Caine had roles in heist flicks, like “Gambit” (1966), “Deadfall” (1968) and “The Italian Job” (1969). To those who remember those films, his character here will come across as a grizzled version of his younger self, with the same mischievous smile but a much slower gait.
That makes “Flawless” a kind of geriatric riff on fondly-remembered caper pictures of the past (both those with Caine and without him), and perhaps to accentuate that fact, director Michael Radford slows down the pace to a speed that Hobbs could negotiate. So the picture ambles along rather than rushing ahead—which makes it the cinematic equivalent of a comfortable old shoe, but has the drawback of giving one plenty of time to notice its plot holes and general lack of real cleverness. In addition, Moore doesn’t do an awful lot with her role but wear the period garments and smoke the inevitable cigarettes stylishly. (The old-age makeup she dons in bookending segments set in the present is also poor.) And a relationship the screenplay posits between Laura and an insurance company investigator (Lambert Wilson) never amounts to much.
There’s also a thread involving the firm’s exploitation of miners in South Africa and a rift it causes with the company’s Russian partners that’s a mite unattractive, since it’s merely used as a plot device without carrying any further consequences.
And yet despite its air of near-lethargy and overall implausibility, the picture is surprisingly enjoyable—the result of its refined craftsmanship and some suitably oversized supporting performances, especially from Ackland as the blustery company president. But what sets it apart is the twinkle in Michael Caine’s eye as the cunning old duffer at the heart of it all. He’s obviously having a good time, and our affection for him insures that we do, too. “Flawless” may not live up to its title, but when Caine’s onscreen it definitely sparkles.