William Monahan has certainly built up a lot of credibility and respect for himself over the last six years. The writer has made the jump to a more involved role in the movie-making process, taking over the director's chair for 2010's London Boulevard.
Fresh out of prison after serving a three-year sentence, Mitchel (Colin Farrell) is readjusting to life and looking for work. He's not positive of what he wants from his new lease on life, but he certainly knows what he doesn't want. Mitchel wants to leave being a low-level hood, a gangster, behind, but it won't be so easy. He takes a job being a bodyguard, almost a consultant, for a recluse actress/model, Charlotte (Keira Knightley), who lives in a forted-up London house avoiding the paparazzi. It still isn't quite what he'd want, but he gets along with Charlotte and sees where it goes. Unfortunately, it won't be that easy. His old kind-of friend, Billy (Ben Chaplin), has a meeting set up with Gant (Ray Winstone), an unhinged gangster who wants Mitchel to work for him. What will Mitchel do?
Two movies came to mind as I watched this 2010 British crime drama; the original Get Carter starring Michael Caine and the more recent Layer Cake starring Daniel Craig. In terms of both style, story and character development, 'Boulevard' clearly is a movie influenced by its predecessors. In fact, that's why so many viewers seemed to intensely dislike this movie. They claim it borrows too much from previous crime dramas, and leaves itself without an ounce of originality. To a point, I think it is a fair criticism. It does borrow somewhat liberally from other stories/films, but it still manages to carve out its own niches. Monahan must have been influenced by working with Martin Scorsese because his soundtrack is very British retro-rock oriented, featuring everything from the Yardbirds (listen to Heart Full of Soul) to the more recent Kasabian, including a great use of The Green Fairy. Not groundbreaking in terms of style or story, but unique enough.
Much like both Get Carter and Layer Cake, I wasn't quite sure where 'Boulevard' was heading. Well, that's not true. You can predict the ending early, but the route getting there is a long and winding road. It's always enjoyable/interesting, but it does drift a bit at times. With as many characters as we meet, it serves as a who's who of the London criminal underworld. Lots of nasty, sleazy individuals, all looking out for themselves because with the snap of a finger, it could be lights out for them. There were times it reminded me of a western landscape (right down to composer Sergio Pizzorno's score, who's also an occasional lead for Kasabian), even reflecting a spaghetti western at times. Yes, I can bring everything back to the spaghetti western. So while the story may not be the most pointed, direct one, it is nonetheless a fun ride.
That can be attributed to star Colin Farrell who's long been one of my favorites. He's capable of playing a variety of roles, but here as the dark, capable and intense Mitchel, he's at his absolute best. This is a man simmering with intensity. He wants to be left alone, and given a clean slate in life intends to live up to it. Maybe more than anything, Farrell looks the part. His Mitchel has been burned in the past and answers to no one. He looks out for those around him -- at his own expense and pain -- because they can't do it themselves. It's a doomed, tragic character if there ever was one, a man trying to put his past behind him. Through Knightley's Charlotte, he can see that fresh start. Charlotte is as equally damaged as him, but they're a good fit together. Mitchel is that iconic crime figure; the bad guy, the anti-hero who we still root for knowing it can't end well for him or his hopes.
Weaving through the London criminal underworld, Monahan clearly saw the potential for a long list of characters with great potential, starting obviously with Farrell and Knightley. Winstone is an ideal villain as Gant, a gay gangster who always seems a word or two from snapping and ripping your head off quite literally. David Thewlis is a scene-stealer as Jordan, Charlotte's handler/friend/assistant, who gets along with Mitchel in all his weirdness despite being stoned/blitzed/high at all times. Chaplin is the slimy past associate, the lowest level of gangsters with Anna Friel playing Briony, Mitchel's slutty sister who he constantly has to save from herself. Also look for Eddie Marsan, Stephen Graham, Alan Williams and Sanjeev Bhaskar in key supporting roles.
Maybe because the story and characters were more than a little familiar, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. I'm a sucker for British crime drama/thrillers, and when they're handled correctly they can be a lot of fun (even considering a lack of originality). This is a dark, stylish crime story that is good, not great. It has style to burn. A shot of Farrell's Mitchel driving through London at night in a classic car, the Yardbirds playing as a soundtrack, it's just an effortless cool, a style that many films attain to be but never quite get there. Watch the scene HERE. Highly recommend this one. The trailer below is misleading. This is not a happy-go-lucky, quirky comedy about an ex-con, although it does have its incredibly dark humorous moments.
London Boulevard <---trailer (2010): *** 1/2 /****