Finding it hard to finally settle down and commit himself to only one woman, the unrepentant philanderer and undeniable ladies' man, Alfie, is a charming British who cruises the streets of New York as a limousine chauffeur. In his impeccable suits, the silver-tongued Casanova is simply irresistible; however, things will take an unexpected turn, when a night of unrestrained passion seriously tests Alfie's frivolous approach to life. In the end, is Alfie happy, and above all, what's it all about, then?Written by
Remakes are always a problem for the critic, whether or not he or she has seen the original. Here we have an American remake in 2004 of a British film made by Lewis Gilbert in 1966, itself an adaptation of a stage play by Bill McNaughton from the early 60s. The creative process is not easy to track in these circumstances, even though the DVD I saw has two sets of audio-commentary by the director, Charles Shyer, and others.
In this version Alfie is still the chirpy cockney Lothario, but operating as a chauffeur in lower Manhattan rather than London. His women are characters derived from the 1966 film, but glamorised somewhat. Alfie's philosophy, delivered face to camera, as in the first film, is the same love 'em and leave 'em.
As Alfie, Jude Law channels Michael Caine in the 1966 film but puts his own stamp on the role. Jude is exactly right for the part and makes Alfie both repellent and sympathetic. We are left hoping he will mend his ways but thinking there's not much chance of that. For Alfie, there is no answer to the question posed in the song "What's it all about?" The music, written and performed by another hardy survivor of swinging London in the 60s, Mick Jagger (and others) is a pleasant feature, and Alfie's girls are undeniably attractive. (During filming Jude Law and Sienna Miller became an item that's method acting for you.) Charles Shyer tells us in the audio-commentary that he set out to be stylish and there's considerable use of split-screen technique and some fancy cutting. Using Manchester, Liverpool and London as Manhattan as well as Manhattan itself for location shooting must have caused some production problems, though most of them seemed to have been overcome in post-production.
This 2004 version did decent business in the UK but bombed in the US. Why? The hero is a Brit, but then so is James Bond. The women are all accomplished actresses and Susan Sarandon delivers a standout performance. There is plenty of relatively tasteful humour but no happy ending, just "life goes on". The pace is fast enough and Shyer slaps on plenty of "style", but what we are seeing is the 1966 film lite. A period piece set in the wrong period. Elaine Pope, who co-wrote the screenplay with Shyer, was well aware that women are now less inclined to be doormats for feckless men like Alfie, and adjusted the female parts accordingly, but ultimately we have a movie 40 years out of its time.
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