Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Colin Farrell plays a newly released ex-con who guards a paparazzi-hounded actress (Keira Knightley) in London Boulevard, but is himself targeted for termination by a violent crime boss (Ray Winstone).
Think Notting Hill meets Sexy Beast meets the gritty Brit crime drama where fates intertwine in a darkly accidental way. It’s watchable if you’re troubled by the money you owe your loanshark.
You know Brit crime dramas? They’re angry, small-scale, realistic, fatalistic, and they can suck the air out of you with assorted characters crossing paths in an incidental, inevitable tapestry.
Forget about The Fast And The Furious. This is more The Cast And The Curious.
Farrell is actually only 34, but he looks 10 years older over here. The creases and graying hair age him, but nothing builds regressed years and suppressed rage more vividly than a curt, mean “F**k off!” which he delivers with menacing efficiency to scare away opponents.
He’s Mitchel, a smash-people’s-faces-into-beer-glasses hothead – ala Begbie of Trainspotting – who emerges from three years of prison with the noble aim of turning over a new leaf.
Sorry, mate, fat chance. His notorious past just wouldn’t let him go. The dude’s too good a gangster for other hoods to leave him alone. “Nobody wants me to be a gangster, because I couldn’t stop if I started,” Mitchel proffers as he tries to shed his inner demon.
In exchange for a place to stay, he hooks up with a bottom-feeder scumbag pal, Billy (Ben Chaplin), who gets Mitchel to back him up while he collects protection money. Mitchel, though, is determined to make a clean breast of things; so to speak, since you know with a good-looking devil like Farrell, there must be boobs involved.
He lands a job as the bodyguard and handyman of a reclusive movie star, Charlotte (Keira Knightley), holed up in her mansion like a modern-day Greta Garbo. Aggressive paparazzi photographers camp out on rooftops around her home the way Lindsay Lohan is staked out in her driveway.
You know she’s somebody pretty loopy because she’s played by Knightley as a vulnerable femme fatale teetering between a vacant supermodel – her photo in plastered on billboards all over as a recurring backdrop and unattainable state of existence for Mitchel – and the lightweight bird which Knightley trademarks, oh, so often with her inconsequential, zero-mystery porcelain face.
By the way, the romantic element out of Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard is the most boring portion of the story here.
Mitchel, naturally, is drawn to her, while he sorts out a family mess – his uncontrollable, boozed-out sis (Anna Friel) – and a clear and present danger – the unwanted attention of a ruthless kingpin, Gant (Winstone), whom he antagonises.
In a new meaning to the phrase – “killing the competition” – Gant somehow has the compulsion to either recruit the criminally gifted Mitchel into his gang or to kill him. I mean, talk about foreign talons, dudes.
At least that’s what I believe transpires in the film since I can’t make out half the time what Winstone, the guy CGI-ed as Beowulf a few years back, is saying due to his indecipherable mumbling.
Oh, you know the English can’t really speak English. Farrell is actually Irish, but who cares and where the hell are the bloody subtitles when you really need them? Anyway, you get the drift.
London Boulevard is the directorial debut of a Yank, William Monahan, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Departed and Mel Gibson’s Edge Of Darkness, who must fancy himself as the new Martin Scorsese, Guy Ritchie or at least, the next Ben Affleck.
The route to that Holy Grail is via London, where the drab exteriors make the naughty underground so interesting, and the kitchen-sink realism of earlier harsh state of-existence tales like Look Back In Anger render piecing the parts more palatable.
The danger is, of course, the pieces falling apart clumsily and the restless characters looking inordinately aimless. None more so than the death-wish nihilist played by David Thewlis as Charlotte’s manager and Mitchel’s new partner-in-crime, who philosophizes about killing like an over-the-top Channel 8 actor.
If you’re weirded out by this, just remember that the English gave us Shakespeare’s to-be-or-not-to-be while the Americans handed us Frank Sinatra’s doo-be-doo-doo-be-doo.
Now, if you think London Boulevard looks dated like it’s about five years old, well, then, that would be a badge of honour because the typical Brit Flick takes pride in looking old and grim.
That includes Colin Farrell, who is undergoing some kind of “serious actor” transition (Crazy Heart, The Way Back) as he tries to reclaim his star status.
Overtaken by a new wave of younger, more wholesome hunks in cinema, he at least exudes “bad boy” like Russell Crowe. The man is too pretty and doesn’t have the raw menace of, say, Robert Carlyle to play a latently pi**ed-off gangster, but at least you know that he might really punch somebody for calling him a pretender.