Director: William Monahan
Runtime: 103 minutes
William Monahan is a “man’s man” writer, but with a bit of a realistic touch. Monahan always plays in testosterone-clouted universes, whether it be with a mob film (The Departed), a thriller (Body of Lies) or an epic war film (Kingdom of Heaven). He then adds vulnerability, genuine stakes and plays around with well-established conventions. His promising directorial debut, London Boulevard, embodies most of those strengths.
When it doesn’t feature those great Monahan stamps, it’s a bit of a plodding mess. After a strong set-up, there’s a meandering second act that lacks momentum. Stakes aren’t being built strongly enough or interestingly. Certain characters introduced early on are thrown to the side, like Anna Friel as the lovable disaster Briony, the hero’s (Colin Farrell) eccentric sister. Everything in the middle lacks a sense of energy.
But when the wheels are actually in motion, London Boulevard runs smoothly and impressively. The film begins with Mitchell (Farrell) quickly being released from jail. Immediately when he gets out, he knows he’s no longer interested in a life of crime, but everyone else around him thinks differently. Mitchell is that type of guy who any sane person, or criminal, would want as a partner. Not just because of his slick and strong presence, but also because of the standards and competence he so clearly works with: hurting people before they hurt him.
For a character like Mitchell, Farrell is perfect casting. A role like this requires versatility, and Farrell has got it. The actor can play charming, funny, intimidating and can give off one of those impressions that he’s already thinking 10 steps ahead with a simple expression or glance. Mitchell could have been a walking caricature as a tough-as-nails goon or one of those characters constantly whining about how he’s “out of the game!” Farrell finds a good middle-ground. There’s a vulnerability to the character, but he doesn’t let anyone see it and he’s still more than capable of beating a man to death if he has to.
Every player in this respectable ensemble brings that uniqueness to their roles, even if they lack much screen time or a meaty arc. Another prime example of this: Ray Winstone. Winstone fills the shoes of the main antagonist, Rob Gant, who is trying to get Mitchell back in the “business” by any means possible. Winstone and Monahan know how trite a role like that can be, so they add a twist. In certain scenes, one can’t tell if Gant wants to brutally kill Mitchell or have his way with him after a nice steak dinner. He’s not flamboyant, but nor does he come off as a mustache-twirling, scenery chewing gangster.
Character touches such as that make the film smarter than some will claim. Monahan has a good ear for cliches. This is further proven through Mitchel’s employer and love interest (Charlotte, played by Keira Knightley) – a famed and paparazzi stalked actress. There’s a scene where Monahan acknowledges the cliche danger of a character such as this. Charlotte mentions how all love interests bring out the secrets and good side of their heroes; Monahan doesn’t allow that. Mitchell, more or less, is the same internal guy when he’s with Charlotte. He rarely opens up about his past and never acts cuddly for her.
“A bit flashy but it’s fuckin’ British, inn’t?” This memorable line that Winstone spouts represents the film as a whole. Monahan intended the film to be cool, and it is. London Boulevard features a good sense of fun with a gritty pop aesthetic, old school camerawork, plenty of clever exchanges and a notable soundtrack.
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