Who still has the patience for that all too-familiar cinematic hero, the guy who gets out of prison vowing never to return to a life of crime and then immediately gets sucked back in by some paternalistic gangster?
That’s what happens to Mitchel, a reformed thug played by Colin Farrell in writer/director William Monahan’s London Boulevard, finally coming out in America after a year on the shelf. The die is cast minutes in as Mitchel takes his friend Billy (Ben Chaplin), a nattering loser, up on an offer to squat in a posh row house in London recently vacated by someone who displeased Billy’s vicious boss Gant (Ray Winstone). What a dope.
The man has only two legs but at least three Achilles heels for the savage Gant to prey on once Mitchel displeases him (as he inevitably does). There is the homeless man (Alan Williams) he likes, who is set aflame by some punks and must be avenged. His sister Briony (Anna Friel), who is a lush. And having brushed up on his reading in prison, Mitchel finds Rilke useful on the topic of wayward sisters. “Everything terrible is something that needs our love,” he quotes. Then he gestures at Briony, who one of his acquaintances has just suggested he’d like to date. “That over there is terrible, but it doesn’t want your love. It wants your pin number.”
The last of Mitchel’s weak spots is newly acquired, a reclusive movie star named Charlotte (Keira Knightley), who hires him as her bodyguard. Char, as the amusingly realistically depicted tabloids and paparazzi call her, lives behind high walls, rarely leaves the house for fear of the paps and is spending her alleged and very early retirement painting in an attic studio. She and Mitchel share sparks. Well, sort of. She looks pained, he looks wounded, both are beautiful, eventually they end up in bed. Maybe Knightley thought this would be her Notting Hill. But she’s barely in the movie, and when she is, she mainly dials up a shrill defiance. There’s no one to care about in this film – they all just seem like they’re standing in line for Gant’s torture chamber. It’s half-baked Layer Cake and that movie was derivative.
There is one entertaining character, Char’s major domo Jordan (David Thewlis) — or maybe he’s a former lover, or a manager. I’m sorry to be vague, but the movie is coy with the facts and there’s a lot of mumbling going on. Jordan’s chief functions are to get stoned and offer witty commentary, which Thewlis does charmingly. He is the only reason I can find to see London Boulevard. When discussing Char’s filmography, which sounds very artistic, he asks, “You’ve seen her get her kit off?” Mitchel nods. “If it weren’t for Monica Belluci, she’d be the most raped woman in European cinema.”
Classy stuff, Mr. Monahan. Although maybe the blame for that line – however sublimely delivered by Thewlis – rests with Ken Bruen, who wrote the novel London Boulevard is based on (Monahan, who had a screenplay credit for The Departed, adapted it). Rape is laced throughout this film; Char has had bad experiences, on and off camera, and Gant is a gay rapist. Winstone is such good actor that it’s saddening to see him in such a bewilderingly unpleasant and homophobic role. As for Farrell, who has been on such a roll these last few years by staying away from traditional leading men gigs, this is a reminder that the better parts are sometimes the supporting ones. Better to be the fool In Bruges than the hero in London Boulevard.
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