By Chris Gore | April 15, 2008

Diamonds truly are a girl’s best friend in this heist thriller that has all the suspense, smarts and sixties-era style of a “Mad Men” episode directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The girl is the long lost Demi Moore. In one of just two lead roles she’s taken on this century thus far, the actress plays Laura Quinn, the only female manager at the London Diamond Corporation.

The year is 1960, everybody smokes like chimneys and Quinn has hit the proverbial glass ceiling. An American educated at Oxford, she’s pursued her career with a single-mindedness that’s earned her the concern and curiosity of the female staff but not the confidence of the company’s ruling boy’s club; she’s been passed over more times than the control tower at Heathrow. But, determined to persevere, she dashes off motivational notes to herself and leaves them on her desk to greet her the following day.

What she doesn’t suspect is that these private messages are also being read by LDC’s night janitor and have inspired him as well. Michael Caine provides the picture’s centerpiece performance in the role of Mr. Hobbs, a deceptively simple man with an extraordinary plan.

Having overheard an exchange between high level executives, he realizes that Quinn is soon to be terminated. “It’s extraordinary the conversations people will have in front of cleaners-it’s like we don’t exist,” he says with wonder as he informs her of her fate during the first of a series of rendezvous. Banking on her sense of betrayal, Hobbs offers an opportunity for payback.

He has a scheme to help himself to a Thermos-full of stones and needs only the entry codes to the vault. “They wouldn’t even notice that much,” he assures his initially reluctant partner in crime and, given the room holds most of the world’s supply-more than two tons of uncut gems-she has to concede he has a point.

The film was written by Edward A. Anderson and directed by Michael Radford, whose previous work includes “White Mischief” and “Il Postino.” Among its many pleasures are an unhurried approach to pacing which allows for multiple nuanced character studies, much nicely observed period detail, some spiffy dialogue (I love the party scene in which a coworker toasts Quinn with “To pressurized carbon!”) and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of twists.

Hobbs is a fabulously entertaining creation and Caine brings him to life with the understated artistry that has distinguished his late career. While the lowliest figure to walk the powerful corporation’s hallways, he’s invariably two steps ahead of everyone else. That includes Moore’s character, who’s as shocked as anybody when the full extent of the robbery is revealed.

The heist occurs at roughly the movie’s midpoint. The build up to it is unrelentingly suspenseful and its execution is white-knuckle all the way. However, what follows in the film’s second half, to the director’s immense credit, is at least as much fun. Quinn quickly falls under suspicion when an investigator comes snooping around and, behind closed boardroom doors, all Hell breaks loose between London Diamond’s chairman and his chief insurer.

The former is played by Joss Ackland, a great old grump who you’ve got to figure is on the short list of Dumbledores should Michael Gambon ever become unavailable. Derren Nesbitt’s the scoundrel he’s paid a fortune over the years to cover him against just such a catastrophic loss but who now seems more interested in finding loopholes than the missing jewels.

The movie’s primary mystery concerns Hobbs’ true motivation for the theft. He’s not a criminal in the standard sense, after all. “Two wrongs a right do not make-that’s nonsense,” he confides to Quinn elliptically. “Sometimes to make something right, you have to do something just as wrong.” All I’ll reveal is the fact that it has nothing to do with personal gain. Something far more complex and poignant drives him and, as a result of it, the course of Quinn’s life is altered in ways she could never have expected and the viewer is unlikely to see coming.

“Flawless” is not without its minor imperfections. A plot development here and there, for example, relies a tad too heavily on coincidence and there are occasional moments when Moore’s affect is so flat she comes off as borderline embalmed. Over all though, this is a first rate caper piece elevated by Caine’s effortlessly elegant portrayal. The movie is wall to wall with pompous, sexist, greedy backstabbers and it’s a hoot to watch Hobbs mop the floor with the lot of them.

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