“London Boulevard” is from writer/director William Monahan, based on the novel by Ken Bruen. Colin Farrell stars as Mitchell, a recently paroled criminal determined to go straight. Alas, as soon as he’s out the prison doors, he’s besieged by a variety of old associates, all looking to put him right back into the thick of his criminal past. Fortunately, he also saves an uptown gal from being robbed by some London hoodlums, and as a result, gets an invitation to go to work for reclusive actress Charlotte (Keira Knightley) as a sort of all-purpose bodyguard. Did I mention that his old criminal associates refuse to let him go? Yup, it’s that kind of a story.
You pretty much already know how “London Boulevard” will go from the first couple of minutes on out. Even so, Monahan manages to make quite the entertaining movie despite the fact that you’ve already seen this film a dozen — hell, possibly a hundred or two — times before. Being that he’s quite handy in a tight pinch, Mitchell is a desirable gangster, even one who claims to be on the road to reform. He’s also note quite sure what to make of his new bodyguard-to-the-stars job, and in fact seems to have not have even committed to it yet, despite quickly developing feelings for his employer, and vice versa. And hey, who can blame him? Keira Knightley, even dressed in the most hideous clothes and sporting some Godawful haircut throughout the movie, is still, well, Keira Knightley.
Much is made of Charlotte’s fame, and how Mitchell can’t go, literally, anywhere without seeing ginormous billboards of the starlet plastered everywhere. Contrast that with the actual Charlotte, who hunkers away at her home like a vampire afraid of sunlight as the often foul-mouthed paparazzi stalks her at all times of the day. Things take a turn for the really dangerous with the introduction of Gant, a vicious but colorful gangster played by Ray Winstone as only Ray Winstone can play a vicious but colorful gangster. Gant really, really, really wants Mitchell to come work for him, and he isn’t the kind of bloke who takes No for an answer. What’s a reformed criminal desperate to get out of his old life to do when a gangster who is big enough to bully even the cops wants you to come work for him? Mitchell’s about to find out.
With Gant nipping at his heels and his relationship with Charlotte developing (though surprisingly not complicating matters all that greatly), Mitchell also has to deal with a cast of other assorted numbskulls in his life. His delightfully drugged out sister Briony (Anna Friel) is a handful, his old pal Billy (Ben Chaplin) is determined to torpedo Mitchell’s reforming ways at every turn, and he’s got a crooked cop (Eddie Marsan) on his ass. There’s also the matter of two murdering hoodlums that Mitchell is after and determined to exact revenge on. On the plus side, our hero’s burgeoning relationship with Charlotte also means the friendship of Jordan (David Thewlis), a former actor turned 24/7 stoner and Charlotte’s all-purpose manager. Thewlis kills in the role, both literally and figuratively, and is a nice fresh breath of eccentricity to the depressing gangster stuff and the melodramatic love stuff.
It’s pretty easy to see why Monahan, the Award-winning writer of “The Departed”, chose a movie like “London Boulevard” as his directorial debut. This is a British cousin to Scorsese’s “The Departed”, right down to the bloody finale. Despite what has been a charming (though admittedly violent) movie for much of its running time, “Boulevard” takes a surprisingly nihilistic turn in the Third Act, doing so with a grin and poppy soundtrack. Thankfully, Monahan spares us much of the visceral carnage that transpires, but the effect is the same: GodDAMN there are a lot of dead bodies dropping by film’s end. Despite having seen more than my share of gangster movies, I was still caught off guard by the sheer amount of killing that takes place in the final 20 minutes or so of “London Boulevard”.
Fans of the Monahan-scripted “The Departed” will certainly find a lot to like with “London Boulevard”. There are outstanding performances all around, from Colin Farrell to Ray Winstone as the film’s two opposing forces. It may seem like Winstone can do this role in his sleep, but that’s probably because he can. Farrell is outstanding from beginning to end as the highly conflicted gangster bent on reforming, even if no one around him believes a single word of it. I could have done without the overly bleak ending, but Monahan shoots it all in such a cheery, matter-of-fact way that I can’t help but wonder if he’s only doing it because it’s expected of him, the guy who wrote the murder-a-second finale of “The Departed”. Overly familiar premise aside, “London Boulevard” has a lot going for it, including an incredibly good Colin Farrell, to warrant a recommendation.
“London Boulevard” lands on Region 2 DVD and Blu-ray today.
William Monahan (director) / William Monahan (screenplay), Ken Bruen (novel)
CAST: Keira Knightley … Charlotte
Colin Farrell … Mitchell
Anna Friel … Briony
Ray Winstone … Gant
Jamie Campbell Bower … White Boy
David Thewlis … Jordan
Eddie Marsan … DI Bailey
Ben Chaplin … Billy