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The posters for Charles Shyer’s remake of Lewis Gilbert’s Alfie (1966) sports the phrase “What’s it all about?”

At first this seemed to be an apt tagline, considering that the plot of the film is difficult to shoehorn into an attractive package for targeting specific audiences, but the tagline was in place for the original as well.

This could mean one of two things. Either the studio intended to mirror to marketing campaign of the original film, or even with today’s standards the remake is still a tough sell. It’s likely a mixture of both. Shyer’s remake places Jude Law into the shoes of the character that garnered Michael Caine his first Academy Award nomination back in 1967, and Law plays the role perfectly.

For those of us who either a) never saw the original, or b) forgot it nearly entirely, here is a quick recap. Alfie is a ladies man who is intuitive in understanding the mind of womankind sufficiently enough to acquire what he wants, but is so substantially displaced from his own emotions to be able to discern exactly what it is that he needs.

Opportunities present themselves to Alfie all the time, and as a limo driver he has the tools necessary to take full advantages of such ripe physical encounters. The problem is that Alfie is so unaware of a “good thing” when it comes along that he often squanders the chance of establishing something more substantial with the women in his life.

This role is an excellent step for Law because Alfie is a character with all too many layers hidden below a shallow two-dimensional façade. It’s not an easy role to pull off, especially in the footsteps of someone like Michael Caine, but Law rises to the challenge. To call him charming in the role is a bit of an understatement because he is both dashing and disgusting at once, yet he never ceases to intrigue throughout the film. As Alfie’s troubles continue to multiply, we never lose touch with him to the point of crossing over from a character “we love to hate” to a character “we just plain despise.”

Let’s pause just a second here. Has anyone else noticed that Jude Law is proving to be something of a workhorse this year? What is the deal?

The guy has logged six performances in 2004: I (Heart) Huckabees, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Alfie have all been released so far, and he still has Closer (12/03/2004), Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (12/17/2004), and a cameo as Errol Flynn in Scorsese’s The Aviator (12/17/2004).

Wow. Ok, so the last two consist of a cameo and some narration work, but this still remains impressive considering. The big question is, will it pay off come Award season?

He was a big part of making Huckabees what it was, and Sky Captain isn’t likely to strike the Academy as something special. No, it would seem that Alfie is his big shot at the prize, and it’s a slim chance but it might work if the box office is decent enough after the first week. Anyway, let’s move on.

Most notable is the style employed here. Alfie begins with a bang, and it zips and pops throughout the first reel. Words of the day punctuate Alfie’s encounters, and everywhere he travels billboards and other signs contain words that seem to mirror aspects of the film in telling ways.

For example, peering through a diner window, Alfie gazes at a happy family with their child inside. The billboard atop the diner reads in bold red “DESIRE.” A very nice touch, indeed.

We are sucked into his world, full of wit and harsh truths obscured by an amicable front, always appearing to be the dapper gentleman on the surface with ulterior thoughts masked beneath.

Try not to cringe when Alfie encounters his neighbors in the hallway. It’s near impossible not to judge him immediately, yet the audacity of his thought process is hysterical.

The life of a womanizer is never simplistic, especially in the movies, so it’s no surprise that a brush with mortality causes Alfie’s romantic life to take a plummet and only leads to bigger problems along the way. The film adjusts accordingly, the pace slows to allow each minor tragedy sink in and take form into that final classic moment.

Deep down, I was suspicious of this adaptation, especially after catching a few TV spots prior to going into the screening Wednesday night. The rising fear that the film would ultimately be reworked into some sort of modern day romantic comedy angle on the original seemed daunting, but thankfully this isn’t the case.

What you will find is a film that is clever enough to consistently entertain yet emotional enough to get the blood flowing without feeling overtly forced. It’s a moody piece, but perhaps that is what makes it so enjoyable.

Discussing the film with some of the others in attendance Wednesday it seemed that many felt misled by the trailers, but enjoyed the outcome nonetheless. The consensus seemed to be that the film was realistic in its portrayal of a playboy, but without serving up a spoon-fed message.

Maybe the studios are wrong about audiences needing things spelled out for them? Who knows, but the hard truth is that it will be a tough weekend for Alfie as it stands to go head-to-head with Pixar’s latest effort, The Incredibles.


Mario Anima

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