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Diamonds, Gold, and War:
The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa
by Martin Meredith
(Discounted Hardcover from Amazon)
. "Flawless"

This gem of a movie shines with the brilliance of multifaceted talent, from its production to its acting with a special tip of the ring finger to debuting screenwriter Edward A. Anderson's rare astuteness in constructing a taut thriller of this calibre. "Flawless" takes its place among other high-polish heist movie treasures, from Agatha Christie adaptations to "Ocean's Thirteen." After its central figure's years-long plot for revenge, I'm prone to subtitle it, "Hobb's Two."

Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine) has been a modest and barely noticed janitor at the London Diamond Corporation for many years. In fact, he acquired the position shortly after his wife's death and has performed his mundane tasks with such clockwork regularity he's become part of the office furniture as far as the managerial staff is concerned. But, for Hobbs, it hasn't been a case of devotion -- unless you mean devotion to crafty ingenuity.

Nothing escapes the eyes and ears of this industrious mopper and he's fully aware of the difficulties and disappointments being suffered by Laura Quinn, (Demi Moore) the token female in the executive suite of the largest trader and supplier of diamonds in the world. Hobbs is well aware of each and every time the deserving lady has been passed over for promotion, how held in check she's been by the big boss, Sir Milton Ashtoncroft (Joss Ackland). To him, it's bad enough that a woman, a transplanted American, albeit proficient and expert, has broken the traditions of his bastion of british male power.

To illustrate just how far his enmity goes, Ashtoncroft holds an executive debate on how to handle the Russians -- one of the firm's biggest client -- in the wake of a mine disaster that killed their people. Laura comes up with a clearly brilliant tactical solution that wipes all other ideas off the board, but it doesn't put a dent in the plans underway to fire her. And she first learns of it from Hobbs.

He is, of course, playing his major card in convincing her to work with him on his payback scheme -- a heist of the company's vault with enough stones to secure each of them for life. When she verifies her planned termination on company documentation, her ethical baseline crumbles and she listens to this janitor with a whole deal more on his mind than wax and detergent. But, his plan rests on her ability to obtain the combination to the firm's massive vault, a seemingly impossible task given that it's changed once a week and only two people are privy to the update.

The combination is obtained, all right, in a sequence of considerable tension and suspense, but no sooner is that accomplished by a now completely involved Quinn but a new problem arises immediately. The firm has installed surveillance cameras in strategic locations with constant monitoring. Not to be daunted, however, she points out that there are twice as many cameras as monitors, so each position has an unseen interval. But is the delay long enough to allow this elderly gentleman, with his cart and mops, to make it down a long corridor, tumble the lock, open and close the door before the security officer catches it?

As though that weren't a key question on which much depends, an even bigger one awaits the bank's officers who are in negotiation with their insurer, a smug billionaire of a man who wouldn't pay the claim for loss if his insured's life depended on it. Which is exactly what all this has been about, as Hobb's, who has been evoking the memory of his dead wife all along, will explain.

Insurance Detective Finch (Lambert Wilson) is sent in to dope out how the heist (which turns out differently than initially planned) was done. His obvious suspicions about the American lady and her potential reasons for being involved are tempered by a personal interest that, at last, provides the film a little sexual energy, hardly possible with ageing Hobbs.

The aftermath comes with an intricate set of moves proving what a grandmaster of his chess game Hobbs is, which may be a bit too omniscient to fit the preceding maintenance of plausibility. It also features a (perhaps obligatory) debate on the justice of stealing from the rich and paying off a score which, while momentarily satisfying, is no more mind-changing as arguments on either side of the abortion issue. Not.

The pace is steady on, (after all, it's just great wealth that's at stake) just as the Brits like it, (director Michael Radford is Oxford educated, just like Moore's character) with upper class mind games and character motivations fueling the intrigue. Score by Stephen Warbeck delightfully aids the tension and the step-by-step plot dynamics, creating a period ambience on top of the wardrobe and the customs of the day (remember the heroes and heroines smoking?).

Typically, the cast is ideally suited to the plot. Moore ("G.I. Jane," "Bobby") might have come away with a gain by showing us a lady she hasn't done before, a steely perfectionist forced to compromise her zone of comfort and rectitude. What's next for her -- Margaret Thatcher? Caine ("Sleuth," "The Prestige") is as comfortable as a well-broken-in shoe as an unexpectedly wise old character we think we've chuckled over before (maybe as a spy, former or current?). In any case, he's got it down really well.

The end note, which attempts to leave us with a celebration of Laura's triumph, seems a positive stretch with a shaky foundation.

The term "flawless," is commonly used to describe a perfect stone, impeccably processed and faceted. Perfection, of course is in the eye of the expert beholder. As far as what the filmmakers constructed here, the spirit of the title term is close enough to forgive blemishes that don't really spoil the fun.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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