London Boulevard

15 Dec

Title: London Boulevard
Year: 2011
Director: William Monahan
Writer: William Monahan, based on the novel by Ken Bruen
Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Ray Winstone, Ben Chaplin, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, Ophelia Lovibond
MPAA Rating: R, strong violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use
Runtime: 103 min
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%

William Monahan won the Oscar for his adaptation of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, which of course turned out the to be the Martin Scorsese masterpiece that was The Departed. He adapts a novel this time around for his directorial debut, London Boulevard, a rather stylish gangster film. And I thought there was quite a bit of stuff to recommend in this film, it’s obviously not The Departed, not by a long shot, but the sharp dialogue is all there, and Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley make for a pretty damn great pair of lovers, and Ray Winstone for a damn great foe to them.

This is actually a really confident first at-bat from Mr. Monahan, so much so that it may veer off into cocky territory at times, but the reality is that he delivers a film with a definite style and he makes it a smart one, too. The one thing is that, and this is why I say that the confidence came out as cockiness at times, Mr. Monahan at times kind of tried to stick too many subplots into this one, and in a hundred-minute movie there’s no time or space to really tend to all of the ones he tried to provide, which meant some of them were dealt in a really unimpressive fashion and the other ones fell into generic places. It would have been much better for him to stick to the main story and follow that one through.

That’s pretty much what I think about London Boulevard, it has too many ideas going on at the same time and a huge amount of talented actors ready to be used by Mr. Monahan so it just kind of crumbles because it wanted too much. Which is obviously still far better than failing because you didn’t set out to achieve much, the cast is still great and the premise is certainly interesting, it just didn’t really know how to play with all the toys it was given.

We’re in London here, a gritty kind of London, where we meet Mitchel, Mr. Farrell’s character, a just-released con who wants to go straight now but that has the local crime boss played by Mr. Winstone trying to recruit him and get him to join his organization where a friend of his already works as an enforcer. All the while he gets hired as a security for Charlotte, a famous actress who wants the paparazzi to leave her alone after her marriage has ended publicly. So yeah, you have those two strands working together, with the crime bosses and the pesky paparazzi being the two bad guys while the relationship between the characters of Mr. Farrell and Ms. Knightley starts evolving.

Were London Boulevard to stick to just that, I think it would have been a really good film. But instead we also have Mitchell trying to avenge the murder of a friend while he also deals with his alcoholic sister (played really well by the lovely Anna Friel) and he we have yet another obstacle in the shape of Charlotte’s best friend (a role David Thewlis rocks). So, you see, we have so much stuff going on on the side that we can’t really delve into the main stuff, and what happens is that the relationship between Mitchel and Charlotte is underdeveloped, and when this film tries to be a stylish, dark crime thriller such as Drive (the year’s best film to date) it can’t help but fail.

Again, it’s certainly commendable to see a first-time director take on both the impact that crime and celebrity can have on one and how tight both of those grips can prove to be, but it was just too much to chew for an inexperienced director it seems. Of course it will seem as though Mitchel and Charlotte are kind of destined to be together and then the film will be about how they can manage to achieve that when the world around them seems to be throwing obstacle after obstacle to make that impossible. And there are so many obstacles that normally this wouldn’t work for me, but Mr. Farrell is great at showing a man with some scars hidden inside, and Ms. Knightley is perfect at looking hauntingly frail, together they make for a broken couple that together may be fixed again, and you can’t help but root for them.

It’s a real pity that a film with such great actors, such stunning cinematography and a promising premise falls apart because the story just couldn’t find its way, something that I can’t quite grasp because the writing came from Mr. Monahan. Maybe he was just so excited to get to direct for the first time that he wanted to give himself too many things to play with once he got on that chair. I really didn’t get why this film failed to be exceptional, I mean it was good (far better than what that 33% over on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest, I believe) and it had some genius performances, especially by David Thewlis and Ray Winstone, but it just couldn’t gel for me to really fall in love with it, there were too many genres and situations and play, and while I loved one or two of them, the feeling didn’t necessarily expand to the rest.

Grade: B

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