Theatrical Releases: ‘London Boulevard’

I feel I should start by admitting that I haven’t actually seen London Boulevard (2010) – at least not all of it. A screening of Mike Leigh’s pitch perfect Another Year (2010) was starting on screen 3 and though it shames me to confess it, dear reader – I bailed.

I was, however, perfectly on time for the “Best British Film of the Year”, having been glancing fervently at my watch for the previous hour and a half, desperately trying to escape the crushing boredom of The Departed (2006) screenwriter William Monahan’s trite, derivative and empty debut feature.

The plot concerns career criminal Mitchell (Colin Farrell) and his attempts to steer within the parameters of the law, having just been released from a stint in “the joint”, made all the more difficult by the mounting involvement of violent mob boss Ray Winstone – stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A completely pantomime subplot (or was this meant to be the main emotional crux of the film? I’m not sure anybody knows, least of all the director) involves Mitchell’s relationship with hounded celebrity Keira Knightley, who has “gone all Howard Hughes” following a paparazzi-inspired emotional breakdown. It is this strand from which the film, adapted from a novel by Ken Bruen, takes its title, a slanderous homage to Billy Wilder’s enduring classic Sunset Blvd. (1950), as though the film sees itself as an equally pertinent statement on the state of the industry and the psychological impact of fame.

Colin Farrell, having proved himself a talented and versatile actor from his blistering turn in Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland (2000), gives an atypically inert performance here, looking more than a little embarrassed delivering the flat and laughably po-faced dialogue. Appearing woefully misdirected, Keira Knightley fails to convince in playing, well, a famous actress. Consequently, Knightly opts for wide-eyed theatricality coupled with an Adam West-style ellipsis to suggest the character’s inner turmoil, which ultimately appears more like she’s trying to remember whether or not she left the stove on.

What is most offensively sloppy about London Boulevard is its structure: characters switch personalities to suit the dynamic of the script, falling in love without any sense of connection or even superficial scenes of lustful glances and oh-so-British restraint. Instead, characters announce how they are feeling. They exposit, announcing their narrative goals whilst throwing in a few c-words for ‘gritty’ measure. Then Colin Farrell walks. And walks. Monahan seems to think that any narrative or motivational incongruities can be remedied by linking them with prolonged scenes of the Irishman strutting to classic rock. This is not the case. You get the irksome feeling that Monahan is sitting back smugly during these scenes and fancying himself as a young Martin Scorsese.

As the poster reminds us, Monahan is the “Academy Award Winning Screenwriter of The Departed”, though let us not forget that the inferior remake of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs (2002) is one of the weakest films in Scorsese’s canon and certainly one of the most shallow and adolescent. Without the master at the helm, all Monahan has is a teenage Guy Ritchie wannabe’s wet-dream of a script and a handful of empty and tiresome stylistic flourishes. The only glimmer of light in the entire sorry experience is David Thewlis, an actor so chameleonic and magnetic that it is hardly worth reiterating his brilliance.

Thewlis’ presence alone could perhaps have elevated the film into the realms of the endurable, yet he is criminally underused and exploited as a cheap mode of exposition, a walking back story of Knightley’s character that reduces the effort of providing character information organically on the part of our Oscar-winning helmsman.

The best remedy for films like London Boulevard is pure denial. If you don’t go and see it, don’t do it the courtesy of talking about it – then it doesn’t exist. You shouldn’t even be reading this review. Let’s just ignore it and, like a silent fart, such adolescent nonsense will disappear.

Robert Savage