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London Boulevard (A Movie Review)

London Boulevard


Starring Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone, Ben Chaplin, David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Jamie Campbell Bower, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, Matt King, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ophelia Lovibond, Velibor Topic, Lee Boardman, Alan Williams and Jonathan Cullen.

Screenplay by William Monahan.

Directed by William Monahan.

Distributed by IFC Films. 103 minutes. Rated R.

London Boulevard, the directing debut of screenwriter and novelist William Monahan, will be sort of familiar if you saw Monahan’s multi-Oscar winning film The Departed. It is full of stunning acting, sometimes breathtakingly gorgeous dialogue, shockingly sudden violence and sumptuously filmed grandeur – but all at the service of a rather pedestrian crime story.

The only real big difference is that the action has been relocated from Boston to London.

Oh, that and the fact that as a director, William Monahan is no Martin Scorsese.

If you listen to the simple thumbnail of the plot for London Boulevard – ex-con is released from prison determined to go straight but is dragged back into the violent world of organized crime by a dangerous loser of an old friend – you would be excused for thinking that you have seen it all before. Hundreds of times, probably.

However, there is much more to London Boulevard than would appear at a cursory glance. Yes, you’ve seen this basic storyline played out before, but rarely with this much style and such eccentric plotting. It’s almost like Monahan is getting a perverse glee in creating characters that we think we should know everything about and then changing them up into directions we might have never expected.

Take, for example, the bloodthirsty mob boss played by Ray Winstone. The character is actually the most civilized, soft-spoken and refined person in the film. However, it is just this sense of the boss as a slightly detached intellectual snob that makes his acts of cruelty even more shocking. Winstone underplays the role so completely and successfully that every time the guy’s true colors are briefly shown, the audience is aghast at his heartlessness.

Winstone’s performance in the very best work in a film full of uniformly good acting, but there is much other fine work on hand, particularly Colin Farrell as the hero trying desperately to evade his past. Anna Friel is also terrific as his alcoholic, anorexic, self-destructive sister, as are Keira Knightley as a morose superstar actress who is a prisoner of her own home because of a particularly vicious set of paparazzi watching her every move and David Thewlis as a drug-numbed failed former actor who now sponges off of the star.

Unfortunately, the fine work doesn’t cover up the fact that there is little of circumstance going on in the film. The storyline is so haphazard that even the sections that would seem like they’d have some inherent suspense just fizzle out – like Farrell’s relationship with his loser buddy (Ben Chaplin) or the way-undercooked and under-explored love match between the con and the starlet. (Sadly, for such fine and attractive actors, Farrell and Knightley have very little romantic chemistry together.)

Also, the tragic climax, though vaguely and briefly hinted at one point in the storyline, really seems to come way too much out of left field to be completely satisfying for the viewers.

Still, London Boulevard does have a certain style and allure. I’m not sure I’d say that Monahan did himself any favors by directing his own film – a more accomplished filmmaker would have probably been able to pull together some of the loose threads to his story, cut some unnecessary scenes and given more depth to his characters. As it is, it feels like London Boulevard is a near miss, but it does show some real style and the dialogue is a little uneven, but when it is on the mark, it is wonderful. Hopefully, next time out, Monahan will be able to scale the heights again.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: November 11, 2011.

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