Review of London Boulevard

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London Boulevard is a British Crime/Drama/Romance film noir starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley. It's based on a novel by Ken Bruen and tells the story of a reclusive film star (Knightley) who hires a London criminal (Farrell) to be her bodyguard.
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Movie Review: London Boulevard (2010) -

Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: October 5, 2011
Directed by: William Monahan
Genre: Crime / Drama
Stars: 3 out of 5

Based on the Ken Bruen novel, "London Boulevard" is a film filled with hard-boiled Cockney mobsters and an antihero who must do very bad things in an attempt to make good.

Colin Farrell plays Mitchel, a former member of the London mob scene who has just gotten out of prison. Looking for legitimate employment and a way to cut ties with his old friends, he becomes a bodyguard and gardener for a retired actress named Charlotte, played by Keira Knightley. However, Mitchel's loyalty to an old friend and his reputation make it impossible for him to leave his past behind.

Mitchel is a gentleman mobster who wears impeccably tailored suits, drives a classic car, and declares war on the local crime boss at a five-star restaurant. However, Mitchel also spends a large portion of the film caring for his irresponsible sister, visiting a homeless man, and seducing a world-famous agoraphobic movie star. While this portrayal could quickly devolve into a caricature, Farrell adds a subtle intelligence and gentleness to the character.

Knightley's role as Charlotte doesn't require much from the actress. She looks suitably distressed and delicate, and her presence for several scenes of the film is reduced to a large billboard or magazine featuring her face. Audiences may also question why an A-list actress intent on her privacy would capriciously hire a former mobster, but Knightley manages to make Charlotte's decision seem plausible. Most importantly, Knightley is believable as the woman who comes to represent salvation for Mitchel.

First-time director William Monahan, who also wrote the screenplay, has an excellent ear for dialogue and an eye for stylish visual sequences. The soundtrack, with tracks from Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds, is also perfectly curated. The third part of the film plays more like a gritty romantic comedy than the crime drama that completely envelopes the final part of the film. After the third act begins, Monahan shows a remarkable ability to create a hyper-stylized type of violence that still connects with the audience.

Unfortunately, Monahan, who built his reputation for writing the screenplays of "The Departed" and "Kingdom of Heaven," seems too enamored with his script to give the film the direction it needs. The film is crowded with plot threads that offer little payoff. The final 15 minutes of the film wrap up most of these loose ends, but most of the problems left by that point are solved by a bullet or a knife. Even the ending, which may surprise some audience members not familiar with the genre, feels unearned.

Ultimately, the film never tells the audience why Mitchel must return to his life of crime. While loyalty to his old friends is the implied motivation, there aren't any scenes that satisfactorily reinforce this pivotal point. One friend, played by Ben Chaplin, is Mitchel's old partner in crime. But Chaplin's character is repugnant, and Mitchel seems to barely tolerate him. However, it is the basis of this relationship that sets up the film's second and third acts.

Another problematic character is Jordan, Charlotte's manager, played by David Thewlis. Thewlis is superb in the role, playing Jordan as a louche handler who, nonetheless, has Charlotte's best interests at heart. Early on in the film, it is clear that Jordan is not adverse to revenge, but his role in the film's final act strains credulity.

Mitchel's sister Briony, played by Anna Friel, is also incredibly underused in the film. While it's clear that Mitchel loves his sister, there simply isn't enough time to develop the relationship fully. With so many other subplots that could have benefited from more exploration, it's easy to argue that this plot thread should have been cut.

"London Boulevard"s largest problem is that it's never quite certain what type of film it wants to be. Cutting the romantic subplot with Charlotte could have allowed Mitchel's motivations and relationships with the other characters in the film a chance to develop, allowing the third act of the film to feel more satisfying. Conversely, the first half of the film could have been developed into a romantic crime drama, scrapping some of Mitchel's revenge and making more room to develop the other complex relationships in Mitchel's life.

Fans of Farrell or Knightley will find a film filled with fine performances worthy of their attention. Monahan's stylized dialogue and sets are also enjoyable to watch, and there are a few action sequences that are guaranteed to delight. However, genre fans who were expecting the next "Layer Cake" should look elsewhere.