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Dustin Putman

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Alfie (2004)
3 Stars

Directed by Charles Shyer
Cast: Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Nia Long, Susan Sarandon, Sienna Miller, Omar Epps, Jane Krakowski, Gedde Watanabe, Renee Taylor, Jo Yang
2004 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sex, nudity, language, and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 19, 2004.

"Alfie," a remake of the 1966 film starring Michael Caine in the title role, thematically reminds of a more accessible, personalized version of the recent "I ♥ Huckabees." Although it is easier to wrap your finger around, and, thus, more audience-friendly for the mainstream faction, it is in no way simpler or condescending. An accurately observed slice-of-life-cum-coming-of-age story about a philosophical womanizer's bumpy road to processing the choices he has made and discovering that there is more to life than one-night-stands, "Alfie" is smart, understated, and unusually perceptive.

For the smooth, seductive Alfie (Jude Law), a limousine driver living in the heart of the Big Apple, his free time—and occasionally his working hours—are all about two things: "women and wine." Strongly believing that a lot of something is better than just one, his playboy lifestyle is but a series of flings, some more long-term than others but never with the promise of monogamy. Single mom Julie (Marisa Tomei) is his sort-of, quasi-girlfriend, but she is at a point where she wants to settle down into a relationship and is starting to catch Alfie's drift that he isn't the man to do it with. The older Liz (Susan Sarandon) is a Manhattan socialite, a female representation of Alfie who is always ready for a good time but not always with the same person. Nikki (Sienna Miller) is a wild party girl who worships the feet of Alfie after taking a ride in his limo, but threatens to become too much of a handful. And cocktail waitress Lonette (Nia Long) is the ex-girlfriend of Alfie's best friend, Marlon (Omar Epps), her actions with Alfie after a night of drinking she soon regrets.

"Alfie" is a studio picture with an unlikely protagonist, that of an unapologetic man willing to sleep with any woman, single or not, that he comes across. Although Alfie does and says unsavory things, there is a purpose behind them for the climactic payoff to work. Writer-director Charles Shyer (2001's "The Affair of the Necklace") and co-screenwriter Elaine Pope avoid sugarcoating the candidly raw Alfie, who often waxes philosophic directly to the camera. Breaking down the fourth wall is a tricky cinematic undertaking that demands just the right unforced touch to work, and it does here. Most important of all, as the viewer observes Alfie's actions and gets to know him as he gets to know himself for the first time in his life, he becomes deeply sympathetic in a three-dimensional way.

The way in which the script juggles its large ensemble of characters is time-efficient and close to faultless. Alfie's story is told through his varied interactions with the women in his life, each one given enough time to make an impact as a person who feels real rather than a thin screenplay creation. And while there are a number of amusing comedic moments, it is in the drama of Alfie's self-discovery that the film gains its loftiest and most truthful resonance.

Several scenes are downright invigorating to watch and experience, either from a touching emotional standpoint—a moment between Alfie and Lonette following a difficult decision she makes; a bitter run-in near the end between Alfie and best friend Marlon—or from a sense of freedom and joyful energy that director Charles Shyer and unobtrusively stylish editor Padraic McKinley (2002's "Igby Goes Down") capture to great effect. The cinematography by Ashley Rowe (2004's "Chasing Liberty") is lovely and picturesque, painting the Christmas season in Manhattan with utterly gorgeous strokes that make the city look like one of the most exciting places in the world. The incendiary original music by Mick Jagger, John Powell, and David A. Stewart aids immeasurably in underscoring the emotions present in each scene without wading into heavy-handedness.

In a year in which Jude Law is all over the place—"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," "I ♥ Huckabees," and the upcoming "Closer" and "The Aviator"—his sterling, dashing work as Alfie will be tough to beat. Although the screenplay offers depth to the role, it is Law who makes this ant-hero a likable, if flawed, person worth caring about. The top-notch actresses surrounding him bring additional gravitas and support to their scenes, including Nia Long (2000's "Big Momma's House"), Marisa Tomei (2001's "In the Bedroom"), Susan Sarandon (2004's "Shall We Dance"), Jane Krakowski (2003's "Marci X"), and stunning newcomer Sienna Miller.

There are times as "Alfie" rounds the corner to its finish line that threaten to become routine, as Alfie makes his way around town reuniting with the women in his life and being faced with one eye-opening discovery after the next, but director Charles Shyer fortunately never quite falls into a predictable melodramatic pattern. If anything, the final moments of "Alfie" dodge expectations to offer something a bit more restrained and genuine than what most viewers will likely be counting on. "Alfie" is a gratifying early surprise of the autumn movie season, an intelligent and wise film that finds vast entertainment value in one man's own existential crises.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman