Over the last few years in Hollywood there has been an annoying trend, the remake. While this is nothing new, after all the Charlton Heston's Ten Commandments was a remake, most of the remakes released lately had little if any reason to exist. The one exception here is the remake of Alfie. The original 1966 film was nothing short of brilliant in its look at the ultimately empty life of a ladies man. A lot has happened in the thirty eight years between that version and its remake. The most obvious is the rise of AIDS and the changes it has forged in sexual relationships. Even more important than that is how women are viewed and fit into society. Back in 1966 a woman had far fewer options than the modern 2004 woman. Now a woman can be more sexually empowered without being branded a ‘loose woman’, although pulled back by the near epidemic increase in sexually transmitted disease there is a much greater openness concerning sexuality. While most will enjoy the new Alfie on its own the greatest impact will be for those that are familiar with the original version. The contrasts between the presentations of the main character add a deeper impact to the new film. Unlike the plethora of needless ‘reimaginings’ this is a film with a purpose for being made, it shows how far relationships between men and women have come in the last 38 years and ultimately how little real progress has occurred.
This Alfie (Jude Law) is a limo driver. This occupation offers him access to the rich and famous without the necessity for Alfie to actual work to be in that social stratum. Alfie is glib, socially graceful and employs his excess in charm with an extreme in accuracy to be envied by many men. The current term that would be applied to Alfie is commitment phobic, like the proverbial bee Alfie prefers to flit from flower to flower in his quest for personal satisfaction. While a socially well balanced man would look for a woman that can satisfy the many complexities of a committed relationship, Alfie typically finds one characteristic in each woman he becomes involved with. The need for a family is met by Julie (Marisa Tomei) a single mother and ostensibly Alfie’s girlfriend. With her the urge to settle down and enjoy family life is not long term, when he wants a family he sees her and uses hers. When he that feeling passes Alfie can leave without any strings to hold him. When Alfie wants to feel needed there is always Dorie (Jane Krakowski), her marriage has left her lonely and in need of the specialized attention that Alfie dishes out. One type of woman that did not exist for the original is Liz (Susan Sarandon). She is a powerful executive in a cosmetics firm, cool, in control and definitively strong willed. Actually, she is basically a female counter point for Alfie. Last there is the archetypical female most men dream about and lust for, Nikki (Sienna Miller). She is a free spirit that is free with her perfect body and more than willing to enjoy Alfie’s sexual freeness.
Although each of these women had a counterpart in the original what has changed is the way they are perceived today. The older woman is no longer desperate; she enjoys the sexual freedom her social position affords her. The issue of pregnancy is also changed. Even though Woe versus Wade is under attack the legal options for an unexpected pregnancy are a lot different than back in 1966. As the film unfolds Alfie begins to realize that there is no winning the game he has been playing. Peter Pan is nice in theory but the time is rapidly approaching that Alfie must grow up and face the world. Empathy slowly begins to creep into Alfie’s world and for all his machismo he is ill equipped to handle it.
Part of the charm of the original was recreated here. The choice of the main character is crucial to the success of the film and light struck twice when Jude Law was cast in the role made famous by Michael Caine. Like Caine, Law is at that wonderful point in an actor’s career when back to back films keep is face in front of the public. Law is talented and able to take on numerous roles, changing his presentation like most change a shirt. Dispite is young years Law is seasoned and able to make the audience care for Alfie as a person. Considering how unsympathetic the character is this is an accomplishment. In order to balance Law’s performance strong actresses where needed to play opposite him. In each case the right actress was located for this project. Marisa Tomei has incredible range in her career. She is equally comfortable as an air head as she is here as the single mom trying to rediscover love. While most will remember Jane Krakowski as the acerbic secretary on Ally McBeal, she has great depth in her craft. If you are at all human your heart will go out to her character, she treads the fine line perfectly never giving in to melodrama. Law’s real life girlfriend Sienna Miller was excellent as the party girl Nikki. The natural chemistry between her and Law give her performance a nice little extra. Susan Sarandon is nothing less than a force of nature. She commands the screen in ever scene she graces. Here is a woman that knows how to inhabit her role like few actresses can.
Writer/director Charles Shyer is no stranger to the remake. He took on the modernization of Father of the Bride and gave proper respect to the original while bringing the story into a more modern time. His credits include such films as Private Benjamin, Irreconcilable Differences and Baby Boom, not a bad resume at all. The key here is Shyer doesn’t try to take over a film as well respected as the original Alfie, he brings the story into a contemporary setting while managing to maintain the over all impact. There is a nod to the original as Alfie breaks the forbidden forth wall to comment directly to the audience. Shyer lets his actors do what they do best, tell the story he is presenting, while allowing very human characters open emotionally for the audience.
Paramount has given proper credit to this film with their DVD release. Although it is available in a pan & scan version stick to the widescreen presentation. In fact, go the extra distance and do yourself a favor and pick up the widescreen version bundled with the original 1966 version. With the 2004 film the Dolby 5.1 audio is impressive. The ambience is completely natural, surrounding the room in a rich atmosphere that will draw you into the story. The video presents a well balanced color palette, featuring realistic flesh tones and colors that never overwhelm. The director’s commentary was interesting as this seasoned director explains the inherent difficultly in remaking a classic. To add to this are some deleted scenes complete with comments by the director and the editor giving some insight as to why they didn’t make the final cut. Along with several behind the scenes featurettes those that enjoy extras will not be disappointed. The film has talent in abundance and is well worth adding to your collection.