‘London Boulevard,’ starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley, tells the dark and debauched tale of a South London gangster recently released from prison after serving time for GBH. Based on the pacy, minimalist novel by Ken Bruen, it has many moments of quiet triumph, but its weaknesses resound and, at times, threaten to derail the film. Written and directed by William Monahan, writer of Oscar winning film ‘The Departed’ and featuring a stellar cast, expectations are rightly high, and unfortunately, the potential that these names have is not realised.
Mitchell, played by Colin Farrell, is determined not to go back to prison after becoming a free man. Unfortunately, all those he associates with are embroiled in a criminal underworld that the audience understands will inevitably be their downfall at some point in the film. In wanting to protect his loved ones and help his old friends, Mitchell falls easily back into the life of crime that he so adamantly wants to leave behind. A job working as a handyman for reclusive film star Charlotte (Keira Knightley) leads him to fall in love with her, and it seems that she may be his way out of the seedy lifestyle that he wishes so desperately to escape.
There are some poignant moments in ‘London Boulevard’ that force us to think about what it is like to live as a celebrity, under the inescapable glare of the paparazzi’s lens. As photographers surround her garden, Charlotte says to Mitchell, ‘One day I wonder how much a picture of me dead will be worth.’ Knightley’s understated, thought provoking performance allows us to feel sympathy for her against a band of unlikable characters, particularly in a scene in which she goes to a chemist to buy sanitary towels, but is followed not just by the curious eyes of shop assistants, but also by a recurring shot of herself from a make up advert that surrounds the room, and ends up running from the shop empty handed. Farrell’s performance, too, elicits some sympathy as we see his struggle to leave behind his life of crime, but with a cockney accent reminiscent of Dick Van Dyke, his performance loses some of its credibility.
Fans of Bruen’s novel will be perturbed by its translation to the screen, in which whole characters are merged together, and the latter part of the film becomes unrecognisable from its paper counterpart. The staccato rhythm of the novel’s prose doesn’t translate well on screen, as scenes are too short and seem to change arbitrarily, stopping the film from flowing. There are interesting performances from Anna Friel as Mitchell’s unhinged sister and David Thewlis as Charlotte’s pot smoking friend Jordan (who claims ‘first I was on a kid’s show. Then I was on methadone’), but their lack of screen time makes them seem meaningless.
Unfortunately ‘London Boulevard’ is a film that shares a little too much in common with the celebrity culture that it seems to condemn – it looks good, but in reality there is not much more beneath the surface.