Film Review: ‘London Boulevard’

Issue 56 - London Boulevard: London Boulevard
FilmDistrict/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection

Colin Farrell shines darkly in script by ‘The Departed’s William Monahan.

In his crime novels, Irish writer Ken Bruen can pen stylish mean-streets poetry, and it is this refreshingly punchy, often quite funny quality that screenwriter William Monahan, who won an Oscar for Martin Scorcese’s The Departed, captures in London Boulevard. A mix of 1960s Brit gangster movie and 1940s Hollywood noir, it satisfies not only in the tradition of yarns boiled hard and wry but as a savvy comment on fame and ambition.

The film, his first feature as a director, opened Nov. 26 in London, and distributor FilmDistrict plans a U.S. release next year.

With Colin Farrell poised and entirely credible as a tough guy and a performance by Keira Knightley that trades cleverly on her stardom, Boulevard should please audiences that like a tall tale served slightly bitter. Marketed to an informed niche, the film should reap just rewards.

Monahan demonstrated his handle on the nature of those prone to hot tempers and sudden violence in Departed, and he brings along Ray Winstone from that film as a touchstone in the role of gang leader Gant. Farrell gives his most measured performance yet as Mitchell, a frighteningly ruthless hard man whose three-year prison term has prompted an urge for redemption, and who turns down Gant’s offer of work.

Bruen’s tale follows a well-trod path with echoes of Sunset Boulevard as Mitchell tries to go straight by signing on as a handyman-cum-bodyguard for superstar actress Charlotte (Knightley), who lives in a London mansion with her guardian, a former actor named Jordan, played with bohemian flair by David Thewlis.

Unlike Norma Desmond, the last thing Charlotte wants is another close-up; having been the rage of European films, her image is everywhere on magazines, newspapers and billboards, and she is hounded constantly by paparazzi. Bruen’s story, adapted sharply by Monahan, complicates her self-obsession with the matter-of-fact danger brought about by Mitchell’s dangerous past and present.

For Charlotte to be photographed means personal invasion; for Mitchell to be photographed with her after he runs afoul of Gant could mean death for both of them. Not to mention Mitchell’s tramp of a sister, played with mischievous guile by Anna Friel. She matches Thewlis in going to the top but not over it — they’re characters that could only exist in crime stories but are nonetheless great fun.

Winstone’s role is a familiar one, but it is a testament to his screen authority that he makes his hoodlum genuinely scary. And it’s to Farrell’s credit that when they go nose to nose, he gives the veteran a run for his money.

No one will be surprised by the way the story plays out, but the pleasures are many. They include Farrell’s small, reflective smiles when things go wrong and Knightley’s sly depiction of a beautiful woman who has fame and riches but remains needy and selfish. Not to mention Chris Menges’ gleaming cinematography of London at night and a soundtrack featuring the Stones, Dylan, the Yardbirds and Kasabian that succeeds in evoking the ‘60s while sounding entirely in the present.

Release date: Nov. 26 (U.K.); U.S. release to be scheduled
Production: GK Films
U.S. distributor: FilmDistrict
Cast: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Ray Winstone
Director-screenwriter-producer: William Monahan
Producers: Quentin Curtis, Tim Headington, Graham King
Executive producers: Redmond Morris, Colin Vaines
Director of photography: Chris Menges
Rated R, 103 minutes