Sunday, 28 November 2010

Review: London Boulevard

Year: 2010
Director: William Monahan
Screenplay: William Monahan
Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone, David Thewlis, Anna Friel,

Synopsis is here

The reviews I've found for William Monahan's directional debut have not been kind at all. In fact it's obtained some particularly bad ones. It's understandable, the film has a few problems that do frustrate. Even I found myself questioning certain aspects of the movie due to the very disjointed feel to the whole thing. This shouldn't be a bad thing, as many great films want you to ask more questions then you answer. The issue seems to be that at times London Boulevard doesn't ask the right questions, and when it does, it doesn't truly care about the answers. Many characters are lumbered within scenes with almost no real point at all, scenes don't truly build and accumulate the way they should or how we think they should. The whole thing doesn't "blend" right.

However, with all this said the films flaws didn't distract me from the pulpy vibe I gained from it. While there's a certain amount of disconnect, individual scenes and moments bring a certain amount of interest to proceedings. This may not be enough for a proper recommendation, but it's safe to say that there was enough elements of this off-kilter piece for me not to hate it.

For me one of the things that stood out for me was brought up from one of the favorable reviews I found from Mark Kermode (this weeks Radio 5 Live), who brought up the fact that elements of the story (and it's title) is a riff on Billy Wilders Sunset Boulevard, with both films having a centralized relationship with an a closed off, disturbed celebrity.What I found appealing is not only how the film flips this aspect (Norma Desmond craves the attention, Charlotte is doing everything to deflect it) but how film comments on the negative aspect of the showbiz lifestyle. There's a few scenes with Keria Knightly as the distressed, strung out star, that bring out a nasty claustrophobic feel to proceedings. It is a shame that this isn't placed through enough of the film. London Boulevard would work better if Farrell's Mitchell shared the same feelings of entrapment as it would make their curiously flat relationship stronger. It would certainly help bring about those parallels between this and Nicolas Roeg's Performance. 

I also didn't mind the performances (save Farrell's Cock-er-ney accent) which I found had a varying amount of weight behind them. Standout's include David Thewlis and Ben Chaplin who chew away at the Ealing scenery with glee. Ray Winstone is sleepwalking though his part, but you wouldn't really want anyone else to give off that big bad moody gangster that only he can give. There's also loads of little parts for some good British character actors (Stephan Graham, Eddie Marsden, Anna Friel) but while they do fine with so little, there's a feeling that these people are cast because Monahan (An American) is familiar with them more than anything else. There's nothing particularly wrong with Knightly and Farrell either other than you just don't truly believe in the romance but for me this is due to the screenplay and it's dubious dialogue (some of it sounds very scripted) over anything else.
Despite it's flaws, I didn't find myself bored, which could be easy in a film such as this one. The theme of gangster as celebrity (when the film focus' on it), the performances and Monahan clean, matter of fact visual direction of it all sparked more than enough time investment for me. The thing is about London Boulevard is that it clearly has that sense that it's made by an American and what he feels LAN-DEN gangsters are all about and that does become an issue here an there (the film also feels a tad too long). However, as a fan of Danny Cannon's The Young Americans (1993), John Mackenzie's The Long Good Friday (1980) and Matt Vaughn's Layer Cake (2004) I found the film to have the right amount of rough edges to be a enjoyable slice of British thug life.