“Meet a man who never met a woman he didn’t love.”
Director: Charles Shyer
Cast: Jude Law, Sienna Miller, Susan Sarandon
Synopsis: A cockney womanizer learns the hard way about the dangers of his actions.
Somehow, by movie’s end, Charles Shyer’s 2004 remake of the iconic 1960s movie Alfie has managed to drum up a fair measure of poignancy, thanks largely to an uncharacteristically versatile performance from Jude Law in the title role. Because, let’s face it, if ever a film seemed unsuitable for a 21st Century remake, it was Lewis Gilbert’s 1966 movie, in which Michael Caine treated every woman who crossed his path with barely concealed contempt and, when talking to the camera, referred to each of them as ‘it.’ There could be no doubt that so much from the original movie would either have to be drastically altered to reflect the cultural changes that had taken place in the near-40 years since its release, or dropped completely. It seemed impossible that any remake which retained that misogynistic cynicism of the original would find an audience in such an (ahem) enlightened age…
And truth be told, the 2004 Alfie is a pale imitation of the original — which ironically makes its ostensibly crass decision to relocate the action to New York work in the movie’s favour. There can be no doubt this decision was reached for commercial reasons, but this remove from London locations serves to create a commensurate distance between the two movies themselves. Comparison becomes more difficult, and reminders of Michael Caine are almost eradicated, particularly because Law’s incarnation of the inveterate womaniser is such a different animal. Gone is Caine’s snarling, contemptuous class-conscious predator, replaced by an altogether sweeter, more lovable Law. Whereas the 1960s Alfie didn’t care whose hearts he stomped on in order to satiate his hedonistic sexual desires, the 2004 version means no harm and simply fails to understand the hurt he’s causing.
The bare bones of the storyline remains pretty much the same, but with modern attitudes dictating some not-so-subtle shifts in behaviour. Women are no longer Alfie’s pathetic victims; Julie (Marisa Tomei), the single mother on whom Alfie repeatedly cheats, immediately expels him from her life when she finds a pair of panties which aren’t hers secreted in the kitchen pedal bin. Lonette (Nia Long), the girlfriend of Alfie’s best friend (Omar Epps), with whom our hero has a drunken one-night stand which results in an unwanted pregnancy, is as much the aggressor as Alfie and is therefore equally to blame for their infidelity, while the older woman (Susan Sarandon) who seems to be his perfect mate, is no longer overweight and insecure, but the confident and desirable magnate of a cosmetics empire. Only Sienna Miller’s Nikki, the beautiful but psychologically fragile girl who becomes just a little too clingy for Alfie’s liking, contains faint echoes of her hapless counterpart from the earlier film. By transforming these women in this way, writers Elaine Pope and Charles Shyer effectively de-claw the story, making Alfie less of a villain — which there was no doubting he was in the original — and more like a child who is indulged by women much wiser than he.
So, Alfie-lite should be a complete disaster, but somehow, having decided to create a lighter character all of its own, it stubbornly refuses to die. Much of this is thanks to Law’s charismatic performance. Alfie seems to be the part which he was born to play, because in almost everything else I’ve seen him in Law has been far from impressive. As Alfie, he possesses this innate charm that never comes close to tipping over into smarminess, and which makes us want to spend time in his company. Of course, that’s the exact opposite of how Bill Naughton, the movie’s original writer, wanted us to feel, but there it is. 2004 Alfie’s frank declaration that it’s a re-imagining rather than a remake lets it off the hook to some degree, and consequently creates an entertainment that is much more lightweight than its older brother. And there are other small pleasures to be found in Alfie. Shyer’s direction is bright and lively and bolstered by a terrific soundtrack, while Ashley Rowe’s cinematography is first class.