- Alfie (2004) movie review: In spite of its shortcomings in terms of storytelling, messaging, and character psychology, Charles Shyer’s remake deserved better than its – at best – tepid reception from critics and audiences alike.
- Three good reasons for the above: Star Jude Law and two of the women in his life, Marisa Tomei and Susan Sarandon.
Alfie 2004 movie review: Notwithstanding its flaws, Charles Shyer remake – & star Jude Law – deserved less chilly reception
A major financial flop that received – generously speaking – less than enthusiastic reviews, Charles Shyer’s Alfie 2004 remake, starring Jude Law in the title role, deserved better.
After all, this story of a thirty-something supreme narcissist – New York City-based Cockney limo driver Alfie Elkins, who must shag every good-looking woman in sight until he is taught a Life Lesson – is no worse than other trendy, shallow, moralistic, and well-received early 21st-century releases like About a Boy and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
In fact, Alfie is actually far more watchable than these two titles and than most of the product currently being churned out by film studios and independent filmmakers everywhere – though, admittedly, that’s not saying much.
For despite its “good” (i.e., moralizing) intentions, a charming star turn by Jude Law, and memorable cameos by Marisa Tomei and Susan Sarandon, Alfie could hardly be called a “good movie.” It passes the time the way its lead character passes his time: taking its voyeuristic audience from bed to limo backseat, doing lots of wink-winking, and pretending to offer depth and intimacy when all it’s willing to give us is a jolly but inconsequential lay.
Back in 1966, Bill Naughton adapted his own 1962 radio play (later staged in London and on Broadway) for the now classic Lewis Gilbert-directed feature starring Michael Caine.
In that version, Caine’s antihero is an embittered, lower-class jerk who calls women “birds” (the British “chicks” of the 1960s) and refers to them using the pronoun “it” – his only real friend being a cute mutt that follows him around the streets of Swinging London.
With its vivid portrait of a place and an era, Alfie 1966 struck a chord with audiences in the U.K. and elsewhere. Caine became a star, and was nominated for an Academy Award along with Naughton, Vivien Merchant (as the woman who has an abortion), the title song (by Burt Bacharach and Hal David), and the movie itself.
The mutt is nowhere to be found in Alfie 2004. That may seem mean on the part of director-writer Shyer and co-writer Elaine Pope – really, the guy hasn’t got a single friend left at the end? – but then again, Jude Law’s antihero has so much more going for him than Caine’s ever did.
He has magazine-cover good looks, a sparkling smile, great clothes, a bubbly personality, and a rosy outlook on life. He doesn’t have sex with women as a misogynistic act of aggression or as a form of class-conscious self-affirmation; to the contrary, it’s all for (mutual) fun.
Alfie 2004 appears to have a good heart as well. When he crosses the line, as when he drunkenly impregnates the (at the time ex-) girlfriend (Nia Long) of one of his good friends (Omar Epps), he feels really sorry afterwards.
Sins of the flesh
Even so, Alfie must pay for having all these multiple sex partners – and for any sort of, however unintended, collateral damage. In addition to the threat of impotence and even cancer in his genital area (AIDS is less of an issue because he is a regular condom user), there are the inevitable rejections that take place several times throughout the narrative.
The beautiful and mature Julie (Marisa Tomei), for instance, goes her own way and finds another boyfriend long before the final fadeout. Alfie can only look from a distance at the intimacy his former girlfriend shares with her new man.
Although that scene works because of Law’s and Tomei’s subtle playing, this softening of Alfie’s character ultimately detracts from the remake. Since Shyer and Pope desperately want us to like their, however imperfect, protagonist, they refrain from fully exposing his cold, egotistical core.
After all, friends don’t shag friends’ girlfriends (no matter how willing the latter may be). In Alfie 2004, however, it’s nothing more than a blood-alcohol-level mishap.
Hot mama Susan Sarandon
Indeed, Jude Law’s Alfie is such an appealing cad that when hot & horny older woman Susan Sarandon (softly) tells him off in an effective dramatic scene – thanks to Sarandon’s controlled playing – her bluntness seems uncalled for. Why would anyone want to hurt Alfie’s feelings?
Besides, considering that Sarandon’s character has been successfully playing Alfie’s game for even longer than he has – and has been doing quite well at it – where could her moral high ground (from the point of view of the filmmakers) come from?
Nearly forty years of feminism is the answer. According to Alfie 2004, it’s ok for an experienced woman of the world to act callously. (In the 1966 version, Shelley Winters’ sexually liberated American is portrayed as a vulgar broad.)
On the other hand, if it’s a man doing the same thing, regardless of his puppy-doggish cuddliness, he must be held accountable. Call it Hollywood karma: Retribution for all the machismo-on-film of past and present. Thus, whereas fifty-something Sarandon finds herself a young kid, Alfie ends up all alone.
In all fairness, that may not be such a crummy comeuppance if one compares his plight to that of the psychotically dysfunctional couple working at the limo office. Charles Shyer, Elaine Pope, and company may not think so, but being alone – and/or having multiple sex partners – is undoubtedly more satisfying than being in a relationship just for the sake of being with someone.
Impressive Jude Law
What prevents Alfie 2004 from drowning in the dark depths of its moralizing message are two ingredients in the film – one negative, one positive.
The negative one is Charles Shyer’s penchant for using alienating freeze-frames and quick cuts as a demonstration of trendy filmmaking. The positive one is Jude Law.
The British sex symbol is a generally competent actor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Cold Mountain) who has been getting a big buildup of late. Albeit most of his 2004 movies – Alfie, I Heart Huckabees, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – have been significant commercial and critical disappointments, Law himself doesn’t disappoint as the Englishman finding his way into the hearts and bodies of assorted female Manhattanites.
Even the absence of a fourth wall between the audience and the film’s lead, always a dangerous proposition, works just fine as a result of Law’s polished seductiveness. It’s easy to believe that all those women would fall for this engaging horndog, whose chief concern is to keep on trying to satisfy both his insatiable ego and his equally insatiable libido.
What’s it all about?
What’s it all about, Alfie 2004?
Skillful, glitzy, superficial filmmaking trying to pass for a profound depiction of 21st-century urban relationships.
Or perhaps it’s all about an animal-rescue promo disguised as a feature film. Adopt Alfie as a pet.
Director: Charles Shyer.
Screenplay: Elaine Pope & Charles Shyer.
From Bill Naughton’s 1964 play and 1966 screenplay, based on Naughton’s 1962 radio play Alfie Elkins and His Little Life.
Cast: Jude Law. Susan Sarandon. Marisa Tomei. Sienna Miller. Jane Krakowski. Jeff Harding. Renée Taylor. Kevin Rahm. Omar Epps. Nia Long. Edward Hogg. Stephen Gaghan.
“Alfie 2004 Movie Review” notes
Terence Stamp (The Collector) landed the lead role on Broadway.
“Alfie 2004 Movie” endnotes
Susan Sarandon and Jude Law Alfie 2004 movie images: Paramount Pictures.
“Alfie 2004 Movie Review: Charming Jude Law in Flawed Remake” last updated in September 2021.