London Boulevard has a ramshackle quality that initially works for it; you wonder how the various plot tangents, some of which are authentically odd for a British crime film, are going to cohere. Writer-director William Monahan, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Departed, takes a pleasurably leisurely approach to telling his version of the oft-used story of the ex-con who tries in haste to go clean only to find himself pulled into the fray by friends and enemies who refuse to take change in stride. Characters enter and exit the film at random, often serving little apparent purpose other than to please their creator. Even the look is a surprise for the genre: bright and open, as far as you can get from the gray-toned camera hyperventilation that characterizes many thrillers. Considering how dour, predictable, and self-consciously adrenalized most bad crime movies are, Monahan’s approach is welcome.
Initially, anyway. It would appear that Monahan is aiming for one of those movies in which a plot that’s beyond old-hat is used to contain more ambitious sketches with more original characters—an approach that Robert Altman mastered, particularly in his wonderful The Long Goodbye. But Altman’s films, as freewheelin’ and given to seemingly random occurrences as they are, have a point, and are more controlled than they initially appear to be. Monahan, unfortunately, doesn’t really have any place to go, and the airy potential of his opening gives way to aimlessness. London Boulevard is Monahan’s debut as a director and that shows in a fashion that doesn’t benefit the film: This is a sketchbook of passing writerly notions in place of an actual movie.
The main conceit of the film would appear to be a blend of the plots of Notting Hill and any number of British crime films featuring a rogue’s gallery of viciously inept crooks. Mitchel (Colin Farrell) is a well-meaning ex-con recently back on the streets of London after a stint in jail. Looking for legitimate work, Mitchell eventually falls in with film star Charlotte (Keira Knightley) and her odd friend and pseudo-employee Jordan (David Thewlis) as her bodyguard and all-around soother of egotistical whimsy. Mitchell and Charlotte fall in love, of course, and that prospect is complicated, of course, by a gang of hoods, in this case led by Ray Winstone, unaccustomed with the word “no.”
Farrell, Thewlis, and Winstone work well together, but the romance doesn’t work, as Farrell and Knightley have nothing in the way of chemistry. The stars try their damnedest, but the scenario is unbelievable, and that’s compounded by the fact that Farrell has considerable chemistry with the sexy, lively Anna Friel, who’s been unfortunately cast as his party-girl sister. Friel steals London Boulevard in only a few scenes, keying into Monahan’s intended tone and giving one a glimpse of what the film could have perhaps been.
But soon the bodies begin to pile up and you have to accept that London Boulevard is basically just a self-consciously kooky gangster film—with the traditional British dashes of homophobic panic—that doesn’t add up to much. The Departed was considerably over-praised, but it was energetic and lively junk that benefited from the participation of a filmmaker who knew how to sell it. As a director, Monahan loses control of his pace; he meanders when he should be tightening the screws. The film ultimately feels like practice—a rough draft of a potentially decent future film. Monahan may ultimately benefit from that practice, but there’s no need for us to watch until he’s ready to put on the proper show.
The image is startlingly uneven. The colorful exterior compositions are generally sharp, detailed, and well-transferred, but a number of interior scenes vary in clarity as the lighting appears to shift from second to second. One moment Keira Knightley is properly discernible to the naked eye, the next she’s entirely obscured in shadow—shifts of light that would almost have to be unintended. The sound mix is better, offering appropriate sonic dimension. Overall, this is one of the weakest Blu-rays I’ve encountered in some time.
Just a standard making-of promotional piece in which the cast briefly testifies to the director’s inherent awesomeness.
A forgettable gangster movie gets a pointedly indifferent Blu-ray treatment.