Alfie

on November 05, 2004 by Tim Cogshell
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By the time Bill Naughton adapted his original play for the 1966 film "Alfie," the swinging days of mod London were well underway--but that belies the reality of what were in fact still very conservative times by today's standards. "Alfie" was a scandalous film that tackled a number of edgy subjects that only began with the issue of sexual promiscuity: Marital infidelity, illegitimate offspring and even abortion were all in play, none of which are considered particularly edgy today. And, of course, there was Alfie, the Cockney cad played with seemingly endless narcissism by a young sleepy-eyed Michael Caine in what became a star-making turn for the now veteran actor. When speaking directly to the camera (a device director Charles Shyer retains in this remake), Caine's Alfie often referred to women as "it," which, even during the nascent period of the Women's Liberation movement, was more than a bit harsh. Shyer and co-screenwriter Elaine Pope were obliged to contemporize these elements in their adaptation, which is the underlying problem here: "Alfie" no longer has its bite. Sure, there's plenty of bad behavior, but Jude Law's Alfie is, as scoundrels go, a pretty nice guy.

Alfie, a handsome British limo driver living in Manhattan, sleeps around (duh), and certainly he's not the most honest fellow in the world. But he mostly lies to himself; the women with whom he's involved are, for the most part, on to their charming beau's inclinations--or ought at least to be--but they keep coming back for more. And why shouldn't they? Unlike Caine's Alfie, Law's is empathetic and has a conscience--he just doesn't let either trait get the better of him, even when he should. So he beds his kind-of girlfriend Julie (Marisa Tomei), a single mom whose son he dotes on sincerely, but that doesn't prevent him from cavorting with a young party girl (Sienna Miller); or a housewife (Jane Krakowski); or a rich sophisticate (Susan Sarandon)--herself an older, wiser Alfie; or his best friend's girl (Nia Long), who, despite her ostensible level-headedness, acquiesces to Alfie's flirtations to get back at her man. Though none of these exploits would get Alfie nominated for sainthood, it's not like he had to do much more than smile and offer a sympathetic ear to get any of these smart, independent and sexually liberated women into bed.

Through brushes with erectile dysfunction, bouts of regret, getting caught and dumped and played by a better player, we are asked to feel a growing disdain for Alfie's ways and fear for his imperiled soul, all the while hoping he does the same. This is something that Caine's Alfie never does, which makes him a less likable but more interesting character than Law's softer, more humanistic playboy. It's also difficult for the audience to muster these emotions, not only because Law plays Alfie with such rakish affability, but because he just doesn't seem all that bad by today's Jerry Springer standards. We also have less empathy for the women in this 21st-century film, knowing that Alfie is not alone in his loose ways and that most of the people he's running around with are pretty loose, too, and thoroughly enjoy their titillating relationship with the pretty British boy with commitment issues. These realities of the present day serve to cut the emotional core from the original drama, which at the time had something to say about the imbalance between the emotional and physical relationships of men and women at a time when seduction and expectation were concepts that carried a different moral weight. It leaves one to pose the question--what is it all about, Alfie? Starring Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Jane Krakowski, Susan Sarandon, Sienna Miller and Nia Long. Directed by Charles Shyer. Written and produced by Charles Shyer and Elaine Pope. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated R for sexual content, some language and drug use. Running time: 105 min

Tags: sex, infidelity, narcissism, Charles Shyer, Jude Law, remake, Michael Caine, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Jane Krakowski, Susan Sarandon, Sienna Miller, Nia Long
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