Alfie (Jude Law) is boyish ladies’ man trying to juggle his various sexual conquests (including Nia Long, Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei, Sienna Miller, and Jane Krakowski) with his ambitious business plans for the future. After spending most of his adulthood fending off the long term designs of his lovers, Alfie finds that his own desire for romantic stability is becoming harder to ignore. And when faced with strong reminders of his own mortality, Alfie must decide what kind of life he wants to lead: that of a Casanova, or of a responsible adult.
Jude Law has some very big shoes to fill in “Alfie.” The film is a remake of the 1966 dramedy best known for launching Michael Caine’s career into the stratosphere with his smoothly charming take on the English cad of the title. It won Caine a well-deserved Academy Award nomination, and threw down the gauntlet for any other actor brave enough to step into Alfie’s shoes. Jude Law must’ve been quaking in his boots.
“Alfie” provides a formidable acting obstacle course, allowing the lead actor a rare chance to show all the performance tics they’ve accumulated thus far. It’s Oscar bait, no doubt, but Alfie isn’t a traditionally heroic role. In fact, the guy is kind of a jerk; he uses women like doorstops, and feels guilty about it only when violently shoved up against the greasy bathroom wall called life. Back in 1966, the unsavory story arcs found in the film, such as infidelity and abortion, were taboo and handled with care. The world has changed since then, with the 2004 version trying desperately to seem as relevant as the source material was in its time.
The new “Alfie” was directed and co-written (with Elaine Pope) by Charles Shyer, most famous for his entertainingly vanilla Disney creations, “Father of the Bride” and “The Parent Trap” (both remakes, funnily enough). Shyer moved on to more adult themes in his underrated costume drama, “The Affair of the Necklace,” and graduates fully into adult film-making with “Alfie.” Shyer is having a blast with this material, providing a jazzy, hipster score, and experimenting with his editing; using freeze frames and split-screens to capture Alfie’s dizzying allure and freewheeling libido. This is the loosest Shyer has ever been with a screenplay, and when all else fails the film, it does, at least, look great.
“Alfie” is essentially an episodic film, with the lead character running from situation to situation without much concern for an overall dramatic movement. The film is about Alfie’s heart, not his life, and the resonance of “Alfie” is only as strong as the characters and the conflict, which aren’t always compelling.
The film is anchored by Law’s performance, which is nothing short of amazing. He can make Alfie’s often reprehensible actions evaporate with the wink of his eye and the cock of his head, which is impressive considering the sticky relationship corners the character finds himself in. Law is perfect for the role in every way, matching Caine’s charms note for note, and only besting the maestro with his disarming good looks. It’s a scary role in that it requires Law to break the fourth wall continually for the entire film, but Law understands what the character is all about and nails his performance with ease. However, the rest of the film isn’t so lucky, and Shyer has trouble sustaining the energy when the drama turns exhaustingly cyclical. For such a thin premise, “Alfie” runs on for far too long, ruining Law’s work by trying to extend this little slice of life into something more profound. By the time Alfie gets around to asking, “What’s it all aboutr” you might be asking yourself, “When’s it going to endr”Rating: B-