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Alfie

(Charles Shyer, USA, 2004)


 


It seems to be an odd mark of contemporary stylishness to base any film remake around a certain cultural dislocation. Just as the recent version of The Grudge (2004) incongruously placed American characters in Japan, this new version of Alfie takes a very British archetype from the mid 1960s (originally incarnated by Michael Caine) and plops him the middle of USA today. The result never quite gels.

 

Stylishness seems to be the principal thing on director and co-writer Charles Shyer’s mind, well above matters of character, theme or plot. The character of Alfie appeals to something (so we are told) in the modern woman: he flatters her sense of sexual freedom, of hedonism and decadence – and offers himself as a fantasy relief from the drudgery of loveless, committed, domestic relationships. Alfie believes he is a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guy – until the ‘what’s it all about?’ doubts start disturbing his dandy poise.

 

The women in Alfie’s life file by: Dorie (Jane Krakowski) in the backseat of his car; single mother Julie (Marisa Tomei), waiting faithfully at home for him to show up; the suddenly available Lonette (Nia Long), hitherto the lover of his best friend, Marlon (Omar Epps); the no-nonsense Liz (Susan Sarandon), who mirrors his own insouciant games; and, most enjoyably, Nikki (Sienna Miller), who undergoes a drastic and upsetting personality change.

 

Like Caine, Law addresses his confidences directly to us, via the barrel of the camera. But, this time, Alfie says too much. We should be allowed to figure out for ourselves that Alfie exercises elaborate defence mechanisms, or that sometimes, when he is alone, guilt and melancholy overcome him. But having him announce all this smacks of bad faith, not to mention bad screenwriting.

 

From first moment to last – indeed, right to the very end of the credits – Shyer piles on moody colour effects (courtesy of cinematographer Ashley Rowe), splashy sets (provided by Sophie Becher and Beatrix Aruna Pasztor) and a musical collage mixing John Powell’s lush score with jazzy ballads composed by Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart. Like an overbearing TV commercial, the film keeps inserting words like DESIRE, in giant letters, into the décor – as if we needed to be reminded that desire is really what’s at stake in this paper-thin story.

© Adrian Martin January 2005


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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