the directing debut of
screenwriter and novelist William Monahan, will be sort of familiar if you
saw Monahan’s multi-Oscar winning film The Departed. It is full of
stunning acting, sometimes breathtakingly gorgeous dialogue, shockingly
sudden violence and sumptuously filmed grandeur – but all at the service of
a rather pedestrian crime story.
only real big difference is that the action has been relocated from Boston
that and the fact that as a director, William Monahan is no Martin
you listen to the simple thumbnail of the plot for London Boulevard –
ex-con is released from prison determined to go straight, but is dragged
back into the violent world of organized crime by a dangerous loser of an
old friend – you would be excused for thinking that you have seen it all
before. Hundreds of times, probably.
However, there is much more to London Boulevard than would appear at
a cursory glance. Yes, you’ve seen this basic storyline played out before,
but rarely with this much style and such eccentric plotting. It’s almost
like Monahan is getting a perverse glee in creating characters that we think
we should know everything about and then changing them up into directions we
might have never expected.
Take, for example, the bloodthirsty mob boss played by Ray Winstone. The
character is actually the most civilized, soft-spoken and refined person in
the film. However, it is just this sense of the boss as a slightly detached
intellectual snob that makes his acts of cruelty even more shocking.
Winstone underplays the role so completely and successfully that every time
the guy’s true colors are briefly shown, the audience is aghast at his
Winstone’s performance in the very best work in a film full of uniformly
good acting, but there is much other fine work on hand, particularly Colin
Farrell as the hero trying desperately to evade his past. Anna Friel is also
terrific as his alcoholic, anorexic, self-destructive sister, as are Keira
Knightley as a morose superstar actress who is a prisoner of her own home
because of a particularly vicious set of paparazzi watching her every
move and David Thewlis as a drug-numbed failed former actor who now sponges
off of the star.
Unfortunately, the fine work doesn’t cover up the fact that there is little
of circumstance going on in the film. The storyline is so haphazard that
even the sections that would seem like they’d have some inherent suspense
just fizzle out – like Farrell’s relationship with his loser buddy (Ben
Chaplin) or the way-undercooked and under-explored love match between the
con and the starlet. (Sadly, for such fine and attractive actors, Farrell
and Knightley have very little romantic chemistry together.)
Also, the tragic climax, though vaguely and briefly hinted at one point in
the storyline, really seems to come way too much out of left field to be
completely satisfying for the viewers.
Still, London Boulevard does have a certain style and allure. I’m
not sure I’d say that Monahan did himself any favors by directing his own
film – a more accomplished filmmaker would have probably been able to pull
together some of the loose threads to his story, cut some unnecessary scenes
and given more depth to his characters. As it is, it feels like London
Boulevard is a near miss, but it does show some real style and the
dialogue is a little uneven, but when it is on the mark, it is wonderful.
Hopefully, next time out, Monahan will be able to scale the heights again.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: November 11, 2011.