Just when I thought I was out....
Image: GK Films
I have a strong aversion to Cockney gangster movies. After the success of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the British film industry was flooded with worse and worse riffs and rip-offs. Thankfully, in recent years, they’ve been largely of the straight to DVD variety. So the prestige and talent involved in this film is surprising.
Mitchell (Colin Farrell) is released from prison and struggles to build a new life for himself. Crooked old mate Billy (Ben Chaplin) tries to convince him to pick up where he left off, but Mitchell’s more interested when he’s approached to work as a handyman/bodyguard for Charlotte (Keira Knightley), an actress who’s hounded by paparazzi and has holed up in her London house with “resting” actor Jordan (David Thewlis). Unfortunately, gangster Gant (Ray Winstone) has taken a shine to Mitchell and won’t let him go easily.
The film is written and directed by William Monahan, who won an Oscar for adapting Infernal Affairs into Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Whereas that film could be accused of suffering from a surplus of twists and turns, the same charge could not be levelled against London Boulevard. It’s utterly predictable at every turn, with each development sign-posted well in advance. The script is especially weak when building the romance between Charlotte and Mitchell and there’s no real momentum, just a sequence of events.
What Monahan has done is give his cast plenty of good dialogue to work with, and a very good cast it is too. Farrell’s subdued performance works well and his cockney accent is better than expected. Knightley isn’t given a lot to do apart from look very fetching but is convincing as the harried star. The quality goes beyond the headliners. Chaplin (Me and Orson Welles) plays against type as Billy, Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies) stars as Mitchell’s unstable sister/liability, Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky) plays a crooked copper. But the film is really worth seeing for two stand-out performances. First of all, Winstone is terrific as the psychotic Gant, delivering some much needed menace.
The second, and finest, performance is that of David Thewlis. As the RADA-trained, cardigan wearing, stoned Jordan, the actor clearly enjoys getting the best dialogue in the film. Whether it’s discussing Charlotte’s reputation for on-screen nudity (“If it wasn’t for Monica Bellucci she’d be the most raped woman in European cinema”) or his own shortcomings (“Compared to most people I’m a Borgia Pope”), Thewlis is by far the most memorable aspect of London Boulevard.
Monahan wisely uses Thewlis as often as possible. However, the rest of his direction is workmanlike. He’s certainly capable of framing, but seems anxious to hammer home what should be subtle. He’s also very clearly influenced by Scorsese, so much so that it becomes an issue. Almost every scene is introduced with a raucous seventies rock classic, perhaps in place of a voice-over. It’s fun at first but quickly becomes irritating. That said, it’s difficult to argue with anyone using Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.
All in all, London Boulevard is better than expected, but not much better. Despite being based on a novel (by Ken Bruin), it’s obviously indebted to almost every “They pull me back in!” movie from Carlito’s Way to Layer Cake. You could always just stay in and watch In Bruges again.
Mostly entertaining enough, and well acted, but utterly predictable. But yes, that third star is for David Thewlis.