Just released from prison, natural born gangster, Mitchell (Colin Farrell), wishes to take his life in a more legitimate direction, despite the best efforts of his old cohorts. He takes a job as a minder for reclusive and disillusioned actress, Charlotte (Keira Knightley), but when the mob boss Gant (Ray Winstone) takes a special interest in Mitchell, his own wishes don’t amount to much.
Based on the novel by Ken Bruen, London Boulevard can’t be said to have the most original concept in crime storytelling. Indeed, the story of the moral-centric ex-con trying to go straight, despite the odds, is virtually a sub-genre in itself. This aside, London Boulevard is most certainly a flawed and derivative film, yet somehow presents itself as much more enjoyable than the sum of its parts and emerges a worthy Brit-crime flick to spend your money on.
The story plays out like a mash-up of Layer Cake and Get Carter, but the familiar backdrop leads us comfortably to some nuanced and off-centre situations and characters that do add something extra to the mix, that, happily, separates the film from the same old, same old outings of the genre. The comparison with Layer Cake is especially apt come the final act, where, unfortunately, similarities skim a little too close to the bone.
From the outset it is clear that writer/director William Monahan (writer of The Departed, The Edge of Darkness and many more) is going for a more retro feel than the edgy look of the more successful British gangster films of late. Stylistically AND musically the film lies somewhere between 60’s/70’s Brit-cool (of the same ilk as the previously mentioned Get Carter) and the western work of Sergio Leone. It’s a relatively winning combination and adds much needed class to what could have played out as a tiresome and clichéd mess.
The cast range from good to great. Farrell, though slightly questionable in the accent department, cuts a fine, upright yet badass demeanour, the film truly buzzing when he stands up to whomever backs him into a corner. Ray Winstone and Keira Knightley perform the roles you would expect them to quite adequately, Winstone copping an intimidating and nasty attitude while dropping the c-bomb every other word, and Knightley doing damaged and feminine to melt the hero’s heart. The standout player though is David Thewlis, who embodies a foppish, camp thespian friend of Knightley’s Charlotte, who is occasionally called upon to ‘act’ like a hardman, which he does with physical gusto at each opportunity, reverting back to his laidback self immediately after. Each of these scenes are an unexpected joy.
While it is true that some of the story points come totally from leftfield, and some others go nowhere, these instances, for the most part, are outweighed by what is otherwise a very entertaining and respectable entrée into the overcrowded realms of the British gangster sub-genre.
B+ grade – for storytelling
B- grade – for originality
B grade – for cast
B- grade – for visuals
Overall grade B-