Today: April 15, 2024

London Boulevard

Romance
and violence blossom in this gangster come love story.

When
William Monahan won his Best Adapted
Screenplay Oscar for The Departed he
firmly cemented himself as one of Hollywood’s most in demand screenwriters.
Often this would lead to calls from Spielberg and other stalwarts to come and
brush up their latest opus for astronomical fees. However, having already
worked with Scorsese and Ridley Scott, writing both Kingdom of
Heaven
(2006) and Body Of Lies (2008), Monahan called in that age old marker of
screenwriter turned director and along came London Boulevard.

On
the one hand Boulevard is quintessential Monahan with its seedy underworld
mixed with forbidden love, that is apparent in both Departed and Kingdom, and
in these elements it works.
However, on the other hand it feels all to clichéd
and obvious, exactly what you would expect without ever defying or challenging
the audience.

Based,
loosely, on the novel by Ken Bruen; London Boulevard sees Mitchell (Farrell), a
violent gangster just out of prison, looking to put his criminal past behind
him. However, there are others, Kingpin gangster Gant (Winstone) in particular,
who want him to remain in the fold. When a chance encounter opens up a job
looking after reclusive film star Charlotte (Knightley) Mitchell must fight his
inner instinct, while dodging gangsters and the paparazzi as he finds himself
falling for Charlotte.

Both
the title and overall theme of London Boulevard directly echoes Billy Wilder’s
Sunset Boulevard
(1950), which given the title is of course intentional. With
its fragile star and conflicted protagonist the film had the potential to be a
genuinely interesting update of a classic film. Indeed it is at its strongest
when drawing parallels between Mitchell’s infamy and Charlotte’s fame and how
the two of them would rather just exist in each other’s company.
When this plot
line is on offer London Boulevard peeks the interest, however it becomes clear
this is more of a subplot.

The
problem arises when Monahan’s script begins to slide more and more towards the
gangster story rather than the romantic. In this sense the film is trying to
echo gritty British gangster fair like Get Carter (1971) and The Long Friday
(1980), made particularly apparent by the nostalgic opening title sequence.
With this in mind London Boulevard becomes all too formulaic. The gritty
underworld is nothing you have not seen countless times before and you are left
aching for the more character driven story line.

Farrell
does a good job as Mitchell, one minute reserved and quiet, the next a ball of
rage underlined by a man wrestling with his moral compass and natural instinct.
Knightley is never really given the screen time to shine but does a solid job
as the damaged Charlotte locked away in her ivory tower. Winstone is rapidly
beginning to be an actor who is cast on past glories. Here he achieves
intimidating but only in a stereotyped manner. Thankfully the cast is fleshed
out with a plethora of wonderful supporting talent. Ben Chaplin is sufficiently
grimy as Mitchell’s former colleague while Anna Friel is hysterical in the
unhinged role of Mitchell’s sister. However, the film is lifted several degrees
when David Thewlis appears as a failed actor now living with Charlotte. With
every syllable tripping from his mouth as only a professionally trained actor
articulates he is both creepy and tragic in equal measure.

When
it is good London Boulevard is delicate and poised
. However, when it is bad it
deals with clichéd villains and becomes brutal to behold and digest. It won’t
live on in the memory compared to Monahan’s other work but it could potentially
mark him out as a director to keep an eye on.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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