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London Boulevard

2010 | 103 min | R | 1.85:1

London Boulevard


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Theatrical release date

 11 November, 2011
 26 November, 2010

Country of origin

 United States



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Screenshots from London Boulevard Blu-ray

London Boulevard Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 9, 2011

One doesn’t buy a ticket for “London Boulevard” expecting a vigorous display of originality, reshaping the con-goes-clean subgenre with an inspiring display of invention. No, material like this needs to be served with a certain sense of familiarity, hitting low notes of brutality and intimidation in a manner that’s both exhilarating and horrifying. It’s far from a perfect film, yet “London Boulevard” carries itself quite successfully for much of its running time, spinning a familiar story with panache and attention to the needs of trembling introspection. Flawed but impressively executed, the movie has a distinct reverberation that holds the formula together, making the mean business of unlawful behavior convincing in the face of absolute predictability.

Fresh out of prison, Mitchell (Colin Farrell) is dead set on getting his life back in order, returning to his London neighborhood to settle business with old partner Billy (Ben Chaplin) and his gold-digging sister Briony (Anna Friel). Before he even has a chance to exhale as a free man, Mitchell is threaded back into the criminal underground, inadvertently working his way to kingpin Gant (Ray Winstone), who wants to recruit Mitchell for bigger, brighter, and bloodier jobs. Once again facing trouble he doesn’t want, Mitchell turns to a caretaking gig for film superstar Charlotte (Keira Knightley) as his means of legitimacy, spending time with the damaged woman as she sorts out her floundering career. While Gant steps up his efforts to claim Mitchell’s obedience, the former gangster finds himself drawn to Charlotte’s depressive peace, inadvertently dragging her into the line of fire.

“London Boulevard” marks the directorial debut of William Monahan, the screenwriter behind such efforts as “Kingdom of Heaven” and “The Departed.” Adapting a novel by Ken Bruen, Monahan gives the material a noticeable cinematic lift, creating a sonically spunky atmosphere of rock tunes to help guide Mitchell through his tumultuous journey. There’s also a cold, graphic feel to the filmmaking, established in the bold opening credits, launching a disturbed mood as the lead character steps out of prison ready to reinvent himself, only to find his old life waiting for him, whether he likes it or not. It’s not a flashy offering of direction, but clearly something calculated, giving life to bland London locations, taking more interest in rough textures than widescreen shine.

“London Boulevard” is a story of revenge, though it’s a more feral pass at the nuances of vengeance. Mitchell is a smart man, but he’s a slave to the code of the streets, trying to keep his head above water as he faces a community of fools who love to bait him. Mitchell’s not above violence, but he’s a conflicted character, hoping to abandon his instincts for a sedate future of steady employment and concentration. Of course, reaching the straight and narrow is never that easy. Monahan’s script is full of gradual turns and backstabbings, an urban nest populated with a losers and brutes who are powerless in the face of temptation. The filmmaker weaves an inviting story, creating refreshingly simplistic goals for the characters, while encouraging Gant’s ominous presence to pack some suspense into a familiar tale. Originality isn’t the selling point here, it’s the conviction of the material, with “London Boulevard” maintaining interest for an extended amount of screentime, and doing so with only small bursts of brutality. Monahan delights in the threats, not the physical reactions.

Anchoring the film well is Farrell, sporting refreshing restraint and a Nigel Tufnel accent as the befuddled crook. Keeping low to the ground, the actor plays surprise with a poker face, allowing flashes of passion to crack through as Mitchell comes to terms with his mistakes and sizes up his adversaries. It’s one of his most appealing performances, doing away with his blue-steel seductive routine to embody a humble man dealing with extraordinary circumstances. He’s paired well with Winstone, taking turns invading personal space and growling lines as the boss and his prize work their way to a place where violence is the only solution. Their scenes are the highlights of the picture. Less enchanting is Knightley, stuck in a dull role as a sullen star drawn to Mitchell’s loyalty. The romantic subplot doesn’t carry a lot of emotional weight to begin with, finding Monahan forcing the issue instead of letting an attraction grow organically. The pairing stops the flow of the feature, with Farrell and Knightley looking more bewildered during their time together than stewing in sensual restlessness.

“London Boulevard” loses its balance in the third act, finding Monahan flubbing direction as the film deteriorates into schemes and gunplay. It’s a soft ending attached to a surprisingly effective picture, terrific with internalized panic and snarling displays of confidence. It doesn’t redefined gangster cinema from the U.K., but it has fun banging around the neon-lit sandbox.

Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone
Director: William Monahan

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