Riffs, reboots, re-dos, reimaginings, remakes – whatever you want to call 'em, Hollywood is beyond infatuated these days with repackaging films of yesteryear into easily digestible and – thank God – understandable multiplex fodder for the audiences of today. Heaven forbid the noggin get turned on occasionally at the movies.
One such lark is a modern tune-up of the classic 1966 Michael Caine breakthrough Alfie, which brought the English actor acclaim and catapulted him into a memorable run of Seventies films. On the surface, of course, the perfect modern English actor to play the dashing cad Alfie Elkins would be none other than Jude Law, who probably skirts just as close to a dashing cad in real life as the young Caine did.
The film pulls from Bill Naughton's novel, play and screenplay, updating the setting to modern day New York City while retaining the memorable dialogue (indeed, the film's climactic monologue is nearly verbatim from its previous incarnations) as well as Alfie's direct address to camera, shattering the fourth wall to great effect.
The film concerns a few months in the life of the self-possessed lothario Alfie (Law), who scrapes by as a chauffeur, which naturally helps him score with the ladies. His black book runs the gamut from a single mother (Marisa Tomei) to a hip manic depressive (Sienna Miller) to a neglected wife (Jane Krakowski) to a gold-digging cosmetics empress (Susan Sarandon), all of whom claim the commitment-reluctant Alfie for her own.
While Law certainly appears game for tackling some of the thornier issues Alfie stumbles across, director/co-screenwriter Charles Shyer (Father of the Bride, The Affair of the Necklace) plays the film to the widest audience possible and pulls his dramatic punches, likely to spare audiences having their buzz harshed. Shyer also drops in massive billboards with words like "desire" and "wish" at certain points in the film; they're never referenced (except in the supplemental materials) and truth be told, are pretty friggin' distracting.
However, while Shyer and co-screenwriter Elaine Pope effectively dramatically castrate Alfie at certain points, they have no hesitation about dwelling on the downbeats of Alfie's life, leaving the film with an odd balance of quick cut, clean scrubbed romantic comedy and monochrome moments of drama. The cast is superb and Law adds yet another impressive turn to his ever-lengthening resume.
Looking as sharp as a Gucci suit, Alfie is presented in a sleek 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Quite clean overall, but a bit of grain and edginess pops up every now and then (mostly in the digitally color graded sequences); overall, the images go down smooth as finely aged bourbon.
English and French flavors of Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as English Dolby 2.0 stereo, are onboard. It's a nice mix, largely relegated to the front speakers, although when Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart's rock score kicks in, the surrounds fill things in nicely. However, as Alfie is a largely dialogue-driven affair, there's not a lot of aural pyrotechnics. Clear and clean throughout.
For a film that did middling box office business, Paramount has seen fit to include a sizable number of extras here - starting with two commentary tracks, one featuring director Shyer and editor Padraic McKinley and other featuring Shyer and his co-writer Elaine Pope. Both tracks fill in background and behind-the-scenes anecdotes; Shyer and McKinley talk more about nuts and bolts, while Shyer and Pope discuss motivations and challenges in updating the film. Also included is a 16-minute featurette - "Roundtable" - which has Shyer, director of cinematography Ashley Rowe, production designer Sophie Becher and editor McKinley discussing their approaches to and interpretations of the material. The 10 minute, 30 second "World of Alfie" features a few more personnel discussing the film and their work and the 12 minute "Women of Alfie" discusses, well, the women featured in the film. The four and a half minute "Deconstruction of a Scene" features editor McKinley discussing how an early scene of Alfie riding down the street on his Vespa came together, despite budgetary, location, extras and weather problems. The bizarre but funny two minute "Gedde Watanabe Dance Footage" is an outtake of Watanabe grooving to Jagger and Stewart's "Old Habits Die Hard" and is viewable with or without Shyer and Pope commentary.
The 12 minute, 33 second "Let the Music In" centers on the Jagger/Stewart collaboration (and if you're not thoroughly sick of hearing their work by the time you're finished watching the DVD, you're a more tolerant person than I); eight deleted scenes, which are referenced frequently in the commentary tracks, run an aggregate total of 10 minutes, 53 seconds and can only be played together with Shyer and McKinley commenting - otherwise, they play individually and bring you back to the menu. The deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and all of the other featurettes are fullscreen. The theatrical trailer for Alfie is here as are trailers (running for a total of six and a half minutes) for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Suspect Zero and Coach Carter.
So what's it all about? Fans of the original Alfie may cry foul but given the indifferent treatment afforded most remakes in Hollywood, this one stands above the rest. Law gives an excellent, tricky performance and the dazzling style with which Shyer directs the film helps elevate it to a level of richly nuanced entertainment. If you're already a fan of the re-imagining, picking up this fairly loaded disc is an easy decision. It wouldn't make a horrible blind buy for the lady in your life, but anyone else would be advised to rent and cuddle up on a Saturday night.
Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.