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Union Films Review: London Boulevard

1st March 2011

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Promising at first look to be a gritty British thriller, London Boulevard soon dissolves into something of an identity crisis, caught between gangster flick, romantic drama and hints of something far more interesting that never fully materialises.  William Monahan, in the dual role of writer and director, achieves none of the brilliance he demonstrated when penning the Oscar-winning screenplay of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and a stellar British cast are wasted in a film that struggles in vain to unite a series of messy subplots.

London BoulevardColin Farrell is ex-con Mitchell, fresh out of prison and determined to stay on the straight and narrow.  The world, however, has other plans for him and he is soon embroiled in a dangerous criminal underworld led by bloodthirsty gangster Ray Winstone, while taking a day job as a ‘minder’ for Keira Knightley’s reclusive, paparazzi hounded film star.  Before long he inevitably falls for his employer and simultaneously finds himself in deep water with the gangsters, making life a whole lot more complicated.

There are some interesting ideas at play here, particularly concerning the toxic fame that is slowly destroying Knightley’s character, but too little attention is given to each of the various plotlines.  Scenes are loosely stitched together in a bewildering patchwork of subplots and the motivations and backgrounds of the many different players are left largely unexplored.  Any attempt at coherence seems to be abandoned in the final part of the film as it descends into gratuitous violence and the body count stacks up; viewers should not hold their breath for an illuminating or satisfying ending.

This is not to say that the film does not have its redeeming features.  The actors all do their best with the lacklustre script, as Farrell broods nicely and Knightley is sufficiently fragile as the fame scarred starlet, although the pair lack in the chemistry stakes.  Winstone does what we would expect of him as the gangster boss, but it is the supporting actors who provide some of the film’s most enjoyable moments. David Thewlis turns up as a delightfully eccentric, posh, joint smoking actor, while Anna Friel impresses in the small role of Farrell’s troubled sister.  There are also some lovely comic moments, a brilliant soundtrack and stunning cinematography, painting a distinctly gritty portrait of London.

Essentially, London Boulevard is a disappointing mismatch of genres, themes and plotlines.  What could have been an intelligent examination of the pitfalls of fame or a gripping crime caper is instead a fragmented series of scenes with very little to hold them together.

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