London Boulevard is a gritty British drama filled with romance, wit and intrigue, performed by an all-star cast of actors at the top of their game.
The story follows Mitchel (Colin Farrell), an ex-con just out of jail who tries to piece his life back together without sinking back into crime. He’s fortunate enough to land a job working for a famous young actress named Charlotte (Keira Knightley), who has crumbled under the pressure of fame and constant paparazzi attention, declaring herself “retired” and hiding out in a huge London mansion. Despite Mitchel’s best efforts at clean living, his old friends and accomplices are determined to get him back into the game, jeopardizing everything in his new life, including a growing relationship with Charlotte.
Colin Farrell was made for roles like this. He effortlessly sweeps through the range of emotions in each scene, be they fear, pity, anger, love or determination. Whether you’re a Farrell fan or not, it’s undeniable that he has matured and developed into a magnificent performer.
Likewise, Keira Knightley is utterly convincing as the reclusive, jaded Charlotte, a non-glamorous, fragile creature burned by the world, stumbling through her fears and questioning her realities.
A burst of particular brilliance comes in the form of David Thewlis (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Charlotte’s friend and housemate, Jordan. An actor on the outs like Charlotte, he spends most of his time protecting them both from the paparazzi while waxing poetic and getting high. Thewlis has some hilarious little monologues throughout, which are only hindered by his tendency to mumble, causing some viewers to miss the punch lines.
London Boulevard’s best scene revolves around an intense confrontation between Mitchel and the villainous mob leader, Gant (Ray Winstone). The camera circles the pair with breathtaking speed as their argument escalates and the entire plot hangs in the balance. These defining moments represent the film itself, which is dizzying in both pace and execution. An earthy, rock-dominated soundtrack and a reliance on more quick, edgy shots reinforce the feeling of frustrated confusion going on in this small time frame. Academy Award-winning cinematographer Chris Menges (The Reader, The Mission, The Killing Fields) creates an honest picture throughout with his skilled lightness of touch, never distracting from the action but enhancing it and making it stronger, truer and more artful.
The unfortunate problem with London Boulevard is that it never decides what it really wants to be. It meanders from story to story, stopping to glance at characters who neither add to the plot nor receive the screen time they deserve. A classic example of this befuddled writing is in the character of Briony (Anna Friel), Mitchel’s wild alcoholic sister, and her sometimes boyfriend, Dr. Raju (Sanjeev Bhaskar). Briony is a gorgeous car crash of a character whom you can’t help but watch, but as the film plays out, her character feels like a cheap confection added merely for the sake of color. It’s a small tragedy that some of the most endearing characters in this film are the ones with the least real importance.
Producer/director/writer William Monahan (Edge of Darkness, The Departed) may still be a bit too wet behind the ears for directing, but his writing credentials stand firmly on their own, particularly in this genre. One would assume, based on that fact, that this film would exhibit an expert, tightly knit plot. Disappointingly, Monahan seems to have lost himself along the way in the common pitfall of throwing too many good ideas into one basket. To this end, London Boulevard struggles to find focus, leaving the viewer grasping for something solid in a thick mist of questionable stories and one-dimensional characters.
The resounding message of this film is “we’re all screwed,” a variation of which Mitchel utters at the graveside of a murdered friend early on in the film. This point hits home perhaps a little closer than intended due to the slipshod crafting of the piece as a whole. However, several infallible performances amidst a somewhat cloudy plot still make London Boulevard worth a view, especially if you imagine the potential of what this film might have been.