“London Boulevard,” starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley, is a pitch-black thriller with ruthless drug bosses and relentless paparazzi sharing bad guy billing. Would that the movie were pitch perfect as well.
It’s clear that writer-director William Monahan, in adapting the Ken Bruen novel, had strong feelings about the almost inescapable grip of both the criminal underworld and modern celebrity culture. But in trying to take a bite out of crime and another out of fame, he’s ended up with more than he can chew for his first time in the director’s chair.
FOR THE RECORD:
“London Boulevard": A review of the film “London Boulevard” in the Nov. 11 Calendar section said that the movie opened Friday at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in West Hollywood. The film is scheduled to open at the theater Nov. 18. —
The story is really about crossed paths and crossed wires — danger and romance hanging heavy in the London fog. Mitchel (Farrell) is just out of prison and determined to cut ties with his unlawful past, primarily a clingy small-time grifter named Billy (Ben Chaplin) and a scorned big-time mobster called Gant (Ray Winstone). His ticket out may be playing part-time protector for Britain’s current “it” girl, Charlotte (Knightley), a somewhat crazed recluse, almost as fearful of her shadow as the pack of paparazzi who dog her every move.
Whether they will escape their fate is the question, that they will fall in love is a given. Though time is spent on the budding romance, most of the sparks fly as the two run the various mazes the filmmaker has constructed. As always there are complicating factors and other players, the central ones here are Mitchel’s sister, Briony (Anna Friel, lovely as a lush who needs looking after), and Charlotte’s best friend, Jordan, played by David Thewlis (“Harry Potter’s” Professor Lupin), quite wonderful as he goes from cowardly lion soft to sardonic steel.
It’s nice to see Farrell back to playing the bruised hunk, closer to his “In Bruges” best — a relief after the barely funny balding lech of “Horrible Bosses.” The actor can show a world of hurt in those eyes. Knightley, so waifishly thin here she looks as if a strong wind will blow her away, brings her own brand of haunted to Charlotte. They make a good, if broken pair, especially nice as Mitchel and Charlotte try out the new emotional terrain of trust.
As these sorts of run-and-gun affairs go, “London Boulevard” is a stylish proposition. With Oscar-winning cinematography Chris Menges (“The Mission,” “The Killing Fields”) behind the camera, the film is a beautifully bleak brush stroke of contemporary noir, always an appealing backdrop for violent tales.
And violent it is. Monahan isn’t shy about taking his film to brutal extremes. Winstone is particularly chilling as Gant, a bristling bit of rage willing to eliminate whomever or whatever to get Mitchel back in his camp. It’s not that Mitchel is so valuable, it’s more that Gant just hates to lose. There are other tantalizing fragments scattered throughout the film, they just never come together in a satisfying way.
That the plot is the problem comes as something of a surprise given Monahan’s pedigree. The well-regarded screenwriter (“Body of Lies,” “Kingdom of Heaven”) won an Oscar for the deliciously conflicted cops and crime twister of 2006’s “The Departed.” Thematically, “London Boulevard” put him very much in the same neighborhood. Too bad he couldn’t quite find his way.