The new thriller "London Boulevard" is so down and dirty you may need a loofah to scrub away the grime. "The Departed's" screenwriter William Monahan, making his directorial debut, certainly knows his way around gangster turf be it in Beantown or across the pond.
What eludes Monahan in "Boulevard," out on Blu-ray Feb. 21, is the sweeping kind of story that ties all the ignoble ends together. This "Boulevard" twists and turns, but the final destination is hardly worth the effort.
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Colin Farrell stars as Mitchel, a small-time hood freshly sprung from prison. He doesn't want to go back to those three tasteless square meals a day, but he figures if he dips only a toe into the crime world he can stay out of trouble.
Nothing doing. Farrell's partner in his new crimes (Ben Chaplin) is the kind of stooge who can't help but get himself into trouble. And when Mitchel finds a gig caring for a press averse superstar named Charlotte (Keira Knightley), he learns there's always a paparazzi waiting to snap his picture.
Those worlds do more than collide when Mitchel meets Gant (Ray Winstone), a local crime lord who likes the cut of Mitchel's criminal gib. But can these two hotheads see eye to eye? Better yet, can any man survive turning Gant down?
In too many movies, be it mob-based or simply crime stories, the bad guys are imbued with special powers. They know wherever the hero tends to be, have enough goons on hand to get any job done and can commit all sorts of crimes without worry of getting busted by the cops. It's all about giving the hero, or anti-hero as it were, a formidable threat to conquer.
Here, it’s Mitchel who wields that illogical power. It’s grand that Farrell imbues the character with a quiet but unshakeable confidence, but it’s ultimately a shallow device that renders the final act a letdown.
What a shame, since Monahan’s film, with its retro soundtrack, tasty dialogue and ripe performances, seemed headed for minor cult status midway through. What's not to love about jet black lines like this, uttered by Charlotte's protector (a stoned David Thewlis) - "If it wasn’t for Monica Bellucci she’d be the most raped actress in European cinema.”
The relationship between Mitchel and Charlotte seems ready to dominate the film midway through, but Monahan can't settle on any one narrative thread. And when Winstone is on screen you won't care about the moist glances Charlotte sends Mitchel's way. It's the most arresting mob boss presentation since Michael Gambon threatened Daniel Craig in "Layer Cake." Winstone is a marvel, his sandpaper voice and willingness to inject the “c-word” into virtually every sentence rendering Gant a monster we can't help watching with a perverse sense of admiration.
Gant's thick glasses somehow make him even more frightening, as if the frames are holding back some of the rage that comes spilling out when he's backed into a corner.
Mitchel's chaotic sister (Anna Friel) floats in and out of the movie like a pretty plot device, nothing more. And a subplot involving a homeless man attacked by local youths also begs for a sharper focus. "London Boulevard" can't nurture any of its fractured story elements, something that becomes achingly clear as Mitchel's final, desperate plan swings into action.
The lone extra, “The Making of London Boulevard,” is a love letter to writer/director Monahan and his ability to improvise the film along the way. The actors themselves weren’t sure of their characters' fates midway through the production, and one wonders if Monahan himslef was also on the fence regarding their survival up until the final days of the shoot.