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In 1966, Michael Caine’s Alfie was lauded by some for its quirky, unflinching portrayal of a jovial and heartless London womanizer who faces the consequences of his lifestyle. Nearly 40 years later, Jude Law steps into Alfie’s fashionable shoes as a New York limo driver forced to admit that his hedonistic worldview is beginning to show some cracks.
As in the original, Alfie talks to us throughout the film, looking straight into the camera. We follow the charming, happy-on-the-surface Brit as he describes (and shows us) his commitment to enjoying sex with women and ditching them as soon as they become inconvenient. We see him with multiple partners and hear his candid evaluations of each based on her looks and what she can (or can’t) do for him. We watch as his choices systematically destroy every relationship he has. We listen as he rationalizes every questionable action, explaining that you can’t let yourself become dependent on anyone or “you’re a dead man.”
But when Julie, a woman Alfie cares for in his selfish way, dumps him, and a bout of erectile dysfunction reveals a suspicious lump in his groin, Alfie finds his me-first approach to life seriously tested. And when the girlfriend (Lonette) of his best friend (Marlon) turns up pregnant with what might be Alfie’s child, he must ask himself the hardest question: What’s it all about?
For all its objectionable R-rated content (and there’s plenty), the film’s overt message is that Alfie’s worldview and lifestyle choices have left him profoundly unhappy. Eventually he begins to question the wisdom of his credo never to depend on anyone or have anyone depend on him. And he admits that his view of life and women has left him alone with no peace of mind.
After taking the woman he might have impregnated to an abortion clinic, Alfie regrets losing “another child.” He tells the camera, “When we had sex that night, I thought I was getting something for nothing. Guess it didn’t work out that way.”
An old man in a doctor’s office describes his grief after losing his wife of many years, admitting, “We weren’t all that fond of each other, but we were very close.” He offers friendship to Alfie. Later, when Alfie is grieving over some of his choices, the old man tells Alfie to “think before unzipping,” and that “you don’t know what you’ll do [for others] until you’ve loved someone.”
Alfie acknowledges that he’s been thinking about God and death. Then he admits that, “If what they taught me in Bible class is true, I’m in a lot of trouble.” He follows that with a comment about partying in hell with Lucifer.
Having commitment-free sex with beautiful women is Alfie’s singular focus. He's seen having sex with a married woman in his limo, complete with movement, sounds and shots of her in very small panties and a bra that doesn't cover her breasts. Later that night he makes out with and fondles another (this time clothed) woman. He has drunken sex with a woman on a pool table (less is shown in this instance than in the limo). And he's shown with a series of women after failed attempts at sex (including two women shown kissing passionately, and a woman in a bathtub).
Additionally, Alfie has extended sexual relationships with two separate women. Both are as fond of wearing revealing outfits as the camera is of watching them. One even goes topless, flashing audiences with her bare breasts during an extended scene.
Crude sexual comments pervade the dialogue. Alfie talks about “shagging birds,” “panty peelers” and "FBB" (face, boobs, bum). He sprays cologne on his crotch (“big ben”) because, after all, you never know where the day will take you. And he claims that married women are the best because they’re the easiest to get rid of when they get too clingy.
Not much more than breaking champagne glasses and a still shot of a wrecked Vespa. Alfie punches a car windshield.
Crude or Profane Language
In addition to smatterings of TV-grade swearing and several uses of “shagging,” the f- and s-word are dropped at least half-a-dozen times. Jesus’ name is used as an expletive. God's name is interjected.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alfie smokes and drinks often, including an early scene where he drinks heavily with his best friend at a bar and later has drunken sex with his friend’s girl. He meets lots of his women in clubs where alcohol flows freely. One of the women he spends time with smokes pot (Alfie joins in), drinks all the time, and seems to be high on other substances. Another woman introduces Alfie to absinthe and both are shown enjoying the effects before they have sex.
Other Negative Elements
Alfie shows no respect for his Asian boss; it could be argued the boss’s heavily accented portrayal is a negative stereotype. When one of the women he sleeps with gets pregnant, Alfie “supports” her through an abortion. Alfie, of course, lies to and about women constantly and rationalizes his way through all his bad choices.
Those who show up at Alfie screenings looking for the glib and "sophisticated" sex romp advertised in the previews might feel they’ve been tricked. The current running under all that sex, drugs 'n' groovy soundtrack is a message about the consequences of selfish hedonism. In fact, toward the end, the point gets loud and emphatic.
Jude Law succeeds in creating a man with the veneer of confidence, self-satisfaction and a way with the ladies—a hero of men’s lifestyle magazines like Maxim and Playboy. Then he believably reveals the emptiness at Alfie’s core.
Forty years after first arriving in theaters, Alfie’s heartless attitudes aren’t all that shocking. We’ve met this guy on the big and small screens repeatedly since Michael Caine’s revealing performance in the 1966 original. The self-serving sexual free spirit is now a stock character, and he's rarely seen as a cad. Watching countless TV series (Seinfeld and Friends come immediately to mind), we’ve been trained to “understand” the philosophy of sex as a pleasure transaction without strings attached.
The real shock here is that the filmmakers work so hard to uncover the destructive, soul-killing consequences of sexual “freedom.” Men who sleep with women for pleasure with no intention of a loving commitment ... hurt those women. And they hurt themselves. Everybody loses. (Not a truth we’re likely to hear from Joey Tribbiani anytime soon.)
One great irony is that such men lose in the bedroom, too. According to the Atlantic Monthly’s September 2004 coverage of a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Married people have considerably more sex than swinging singles and gay divorcees, and the ‘happiness-maximizing’ number of sexual partners in a given year is almost exactly one.”
Did Alfie need to pile on the sex and drugs in order to deliver that message? Nope. And those who already agree with it don’t need to see the film to be swayed toward a “love, marriage and responsibility” point of view. But hopefully the Alfies of the world (and there are millions of them) will come away with an uncomfortable burr under the saddle of their pleasure-centered approach to life.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jude Law as Alfie Elkins; Marisa Tomei as Julie; Omar Epps as Marlon; Nia Long as Lonette; Sienna Miller as Nikki; Susan Sarandon as Liz
Charles Shyer ( )