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Law strong as reprised 'Alfie'

Nov. 9, 2004

By LAURA KYLE, contributor

Alfie is one of those films in which the audience knows exactly where the main character is headed. The story is not masquerading as anything different than a blatant character study -- to show a predictable chain of events will eventually lead to a clear moral and lesson. That's why it's absolutely necessary to cast the perfect lead, or else one has an uninventive plot that might as well be replaced with a lecture or sermon.

Writer Bill Naughton, who spawned the original play and movie, doesn't dabble in clever surprises, hidden themes or other artistic choices that might divert his purpose, which is to show one man's journey of self-discovery. Director Charles Shyer (Father of the Bride) does not waver in his focus either.

It makes sense that the title character, Alfie (Jude Law), narrates the entire drama, and not in a voice-over, but right to the camera, and is also in every scene. However, one can only hope the actor playing Alfie can handle the task of completely carrying a movie for well over an hour. If he falters, for even the slightest second, everyone will notice -- no one will forget. Luckily, it's safe to say that Law's smooth track record of picking solid films and delivering flawless performances has yet to be tarnished. And with Alfie, his biggest endeavor yet, I smell an Oscar nod on the horizon, although I may be in the minority here.

Law manages to come off as an irresistible and charming, though cocky and completely unforgivable womanizer who expects thank you's from his lucky conquests. He makes no apologies for his careless life as a bachelor, even using his good looks to get an older, neighborly lady to clean his apartment for free. Law's effortless grace with his female co-stars (who include some big names: Susan Sarandon and some new ones: Sienna Miller) is something he takes seriously. Also mixed in is his utter bewilderment and second-guessing about his resulting unhappiness and his eventual re-evaluation of life. He pays much attention to detail, and exercises that old-fashioned charisma -- he's created a character worth rooting for. Don't be mistaken, while Alfie is not lacking in beauty, sexuality, cheeky humor and style, it really is overly bent on producing a tidy character arc. In result, its reliance on atmosphere, dialogue and even the tiniest bit of romance, is minimal. The supporting cast is attractive and hardly overshadowed, and a few laughs pop up, but they are not what makes Alfie special or memorable. Following Michael Caine's original Alfie performance and easily compared to Hugh Grant's 180-degree character turn in About a Boy, Law follows some tough acts. A moviegoer may find themselves going, "well, duh," at Aflie's message, but it doesn't mean they will expect Alfie to do the same; it's clear he's somehow gotten away with disrespecting women for quite a while now. And only when he meets his superficial match, will he fully discover where he went wrong. Most of the criticisms circulating around Alfie are that it doesn't match up to the original, and fails to communicate itself with complexity and depth, seeking the easier road of simplicity (decorated with bland sexual innuendos) and starring a character unworthy of audience sympathy, but I beg to differ. I think Law saves it -- and is entertaining enough to warrant a trip to the theater.

Where Alfie really triumphs is in its quiet, touching moments of its main character's confrontation of his own misery, and it's as though every other part of the film is only a set-up for Law to gradually break down, rethink his habits, and finally figure out what it's all about.