Synopsis: An ex-con hired to look after a reclusive young actress finds himself falling in love, which puts him in direct confrontation with one of London’s most vicious gangsters
Given the talent behind and in front of the camera London Boulevard should have been an edgy, darkly comic, smart take on the “I try to get out but they keep dragging me back in” trope. Whereas it is in fact a dull, dated, flabby mess punctuated by Colin Farrell’s wavering Irish Cockney accent.
The cliched story follows Mitchel (Farrell) fresh out of prison and determined to go straight. Unfortunately for him a cast of nefarious gangsters, low level crooks, junkie thesps and world famous reclusive movie stars are determined to make it as hard as possible for him.
Written for the screen by William Monahan, the Bostonian Oscar winning screenwriter of The Departed, there is no excuse for a script this ploddingly dull and cliched. Rather than the razor sharp dialogue of The Departed, Monahan delivers a cavalcade of Cockney characters that feel like they are left over from the slew of wannabee London gangster movies we got in the wake of Lock Stock and Snatch. It feels horribly dated, both in style and tone.
It’s not just in the writing that Monahan fails to deliver. This being his first time behind the camera he fails to illicit any standout performances from a cast that it should be harder to fail with than succeed. Colin Farrell is never better than when he is doing his slightly crazy, Irishman out of his depth routine, as his roles in In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths demonstrated. On paper the role of the quick witted and charming ex-criminal Mitchel is perfectly suited to Farrell. Unfortunately his creaky London accent is so distracting any amount of characterization that existed in his performance is totally washed over.
And then there is Keira Knightly as the love interest Charlotte, a reclusive actress and model who is hounded by a relentless paparazzi…… I don’t understand how she keeps getting work. This isn’t me being mean. I don’t harbor some irrational dislike for her which renders me incapable of appreciating the quality of her work. I just genuinely don’t think she can act. No, that’s incorrect. She can act, she just can’t portray characters in a way that doesn’t feel like she is acting and reading lines. Every performance is just some variation on her reading lines. She can read her lines quirky. She can read her lines sad. It makes no difference. She’s still reading lines. It’s never more evident that when she is acting alongside someone genuinely breathtaking, like Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go. In London Boulevard she is saved too much embarrassment by the fact that a) she is basically required to play a variation of herself and b) the film is so badly written and performed that she kind of melts into the background. Part of me wants her to prove me wrong and do something to blow my socks off. Then I see Carey Mulligan or Emily Blunt open a jar or smile at something and I realise it’s never gonna happen.
The quality of the supporting cast though should have gone some way to lift the overall quality of the film. Ben Chaplin is suitably sleazy as Mitchel’s “friend” and source of his woes Billy. David Thewlis is also quite superb at moments as Charlotte’s live in friend and junkie thespian Jordan. Rather than use the tools at his disposal though, Monahan relegates a whole host of other British talent to cameos and bit parts. Eddie Marsan and Stephen Graham are limited to a handful of lines. Ray Winstone does his best intimidating Ray routine but it never feels close to what he is capable of. And Anna Friel is basically psychotic eye candy.
It’s a shame because all of the ingredients are there for a what should have been an entertaining movie. Great cast. Proven writer. Interesting, if well trodden, story. Yet somehow it fails spectacularly to gel any of them together, leaving behind a bewilderingly dull effort.
Conclusion: A movie all involved should probably say was “great fun to make” and move on.
Cast: Colin Farell, Keira Knightly, Ray Winstone, Anna Friel, Ben Chaplin, David Thewlis, Eddie Marsan, Stephen Graham