Review by Jack Foley
WILLIAM Monahan makes his directorial debut with London Boulevard, a gritty gangster flick with pretensions of being more than it really is.
Based on the novel by Ken Bruen, which was in itself a pastiche of Sunset Boulevard, the film boasts one of the best British casts in recent memory and a screenplay by Monahan himself, but still manages to feel considerably less than the sum of it’s parts.
Monahan, as the main creative force behind it, must therefore shoulder most of the blame.
Whereas his scripts for the likes of The Departed (for which he won an Oscar) and Body of Lies expertly combined complex storylines with fascinating characters, his screenplay here comes up short.
Behind the camera, he shows a keen eye for style but even then he struggles to maintain a consistent or even convincing tone. He also criminally wastes the talents of several of his top drawer cast.
The plot operates from a familiar place as ex con Mitchel (Colin Farrell) emerges from prison determined to put his past behind him and takes a job as a bodyguard to a reclusive, troubled actress (Keira Knightley).
But while this path offers a route to possible redemption and even romance, the presence of a ruthless crime boss (Ray Winstone) and several dubious ‘friends’ mean his past is never far behind him.
Monahan’s film deserves credit for at least attempting to bring something new to the London gangster genre but its execution leaves too many loose ends to be anywhere close to satisfying.
Ironically, it works best during the crime elements as the excellent Farrell butts heads with Winstone to often mesmerising effect. But even then, there are unsavoury elements that sit uncomfortably alongside the attempts at humour.
The romantic sub-plot involving Knightley’s vacuous actress, meanwhile, struggle to convince, particularly as Knightley isn’t afforded the screen time necessary to make her character sympathetic or even likeable.
Indeed, the failings of Monahan’s screenplay are never more apparent than in a scene when Knightley’s character bemoans the lack of strong female roles and promptly falls victim to the very same failings she describes!
Supporting players such as David Thewlis’ trippy agent, Ben Chaplin’s sleazy best friend, Anna Friel’s floozy sister, Stephen Graham’s superfluous colleague and Jamie Campbell Bower’s pointless estate thug do little to enhance proceedings and feel like a waste of the talent involved.
Fortunately for Monahan, Farrell’s central character proves enigmatic enough to maintain the film’s curiosity value and the actor is to be applauded for another towering performance.
While the director himself clearly has an eye for visual style that stems as much from time spent with the likes of Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott as it does his passion for the British New Wave of the ’60s and ’70s.
But sadly, despite fleeting moments of greatness, Monahan’s debut never really gets close to realising it’s potential. It really should have been a contender for classic status.
Running time: 104mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: March 21, 2011