Just released from prison, Mitchell (Colin Farrell) is a criminal who just wants to go straight. Most importantly, he never wants to do time again. As is the case with most criminals in stories like this, Mitchell’s life is surrounded with people who are steeped in crime, leaving Mitchell embroiled in the life he wants to escape, but with little means to do so. In a vain attempt, he takes the tip of a woman he flirts with on the night of his release, who tells him of a job working for a reclusive actress as a handyman and bodyguard. The job turns out to be for a woman named Charlotte (Keira Knightley), presented to us as one of the world’s most famous actresses. She hasn’t acted in some time and has been hiding away in seclusion since, which has only served to make her a fixation for the paparazzi. Mitchell and Charlotte fall for each other, but as Mitchell falls further into Charlotte’s private world, he also becomes further entangled with the world of crime that he lives in.
Based on a novel by Irish crime writer Ken Bruen, London Boulevard takes its name and part of its inspiration from Billy Wilder’s 1950 film Sunset Boulevard. But, while both films follow the story of a man who falls for a reclusive actress, London Boulevard, which is writer William Monahan’s directorial debut, takes a decidedly direct approach towards the noir. Monahan paints the criminal element with a sharp brutality, and actor Ray Winstone is perfectly menacing as the film’s antagonist, Gant, the crime boss who squares off against Mitchell for the ownership of his servitude. Gant is the kind of bad guy who loses his temper, then eviscerates whatever unfortunate individual happens to be the target of his wrath.
Unfortunately, much of what is good in London Boulevard is in the foundation that was already laid down by a book that is not the author’s best to begin with. The story uses Mitchell’s relationship with Charlotte to present the hopeful possibility of the life he could live, but also divides the film into two different, practically non-diverging storylines. The story suffers the most from a third element that comes into play with the death of a friend of Mitchell’s, which feels out of place and only serves to cause another meandering aspect to the plot. The music, which is an essential part of every film, is bombastic and all over the map, sometimes presented at awkward moments, and to a negative effect.
Monahan seems to be driving for a hip, sexy film, and it instead comes off a little too jagged and verbose. The story treats the characters as if this predicament of a gangster who doesn’t want to be a gangster is far deeper and more important than it is, when really most stories about gangsters are about their secret desire to escape the life. Colin Farrell is charming and cool, but fans of In Bruges who are expecting a similar kind of film will be disappointed by London Boulevard. David Thewlis, who is always a pleasure to watch, shows up as the only other person in Charlotte’s life, a mysterious guest who lives at her house and provides a bit of comic relief against a violent background. But ultimately even Thewlis’s character, who becomes embroiled in Mitchell’s life, behaves in a manner contrary to his character by the end. Or perhaps it’s something that is never explained to a full extent that makes sense to viewers?
In a surprising moment, Charlotte, who is played with an appropriate aloof attitude by Knightley, is talking to Mitchell about why she doesn’t act anymore, stating that most female roles are only there to serve as a means for the main actor to talk about himself so the audience can get to know him better. While Charlotte doesn’t exactly do this for Mitchell and the audience, she does serve about just as much (if not less) of a purpose to this film. She is simply there to provide the desire for escape and the granted “what if?” that is always the intangible conclusion of tragedy, as the main character never achieves what it is they want the most, inside a crime film.
Final Grade: C