It's a pity that even escapist genre fiction stoops to having a message these days. Take director Michael Radford's Flawless, for instance. Roughly 101 minutes of this sleek and stylish 105-minute thriller offers a solid, unfussy adult drama about a diamond heist in 1960 London--which it botches with 11th-hour moralistic nonsense.
It's a drag, because so much of Flawless is spot on. It boasts a moody ambiance of prim, dour London, where the streets are overcast and the wood-paneled rooms are complemented with a glass of amber liquor and crushed ice. It flaunts a capable cast of character actors winningly downplaying their roles, from the poker-faced subtlety of Joss Ackland's businessman and the silent-movie handsome Lambert Wilson (The Matrix sequels' Gallic dandy Merovingian) as a high-end insurance investigator to Michael Caine once again effortlessly inhabiting a working-class British everyman. His Mr. Hobbs is the aged night janitor in the movie's London Diamonds Corp.
Radford even coaxes a restrained turn from star Demi Moore, a performance modulated to fit Flawless' central subject, Laura Quinn. Pushing 40, Quinn is an American-born, Oxford-educated single woman trying to crash through the glass ceiling of the diamond-exchange man's-man world. As her company's first--and only--female manager, Quinn knows she's climbed as far as her gender allows, and as much as she tries to fit into the gray-flannel suit crowd in her modest fitted outfits and modest hairstyles, she's got the wrong parts down there to make her true executive material. So when Mr. Hobbs, whose nightly rounds through the company's trash makes him privy to many an executive secret, approaches Laura with a plan to even the score, she turns her considerable intellect toward fleecing the company that has rejected her.
Radford and his production team finely maintain London's well-manicured if straitjacketed social life on the eve before Swinging London's noisy birth, and the sexual and political tension is often viscous enough to spread like Marmite on toast. The heist itself isn't as deft as many cinematic greats, but it's clever enough to fool the insurance investigator long enough to lead to further plot twists and superficial commentary.
In other words, Flawless is a perfectly entertaining small crime picture, until the end--rather, the bookends. Laura tells the story of Flawless in flashback to a young woman reporter working on a story about unknown female pioneers in the London business world. But just when you think that glint in Moore's eye is because she's not only a great woman of her time but a great criminal, along comes this good-karma coda that just about throws you off your lunch. Women: can't oppress them, can't let them have their thieving cake and eat it, too.