Being in prison can be the traumatic experience. For the lead of London Boulevard, Harry Mitchel (Colin Farrell), it was embarrassing and not something he wishes to repeat. He was there for reasons best left unsaid, but upon release he’s thrown a huge party and a bunch of criminals give him applause and money. Suffice to say that somebody kept his mouth shut. Now, he’s a free man, and wants nothing to do with the business. If only things went according to plan.
The problem with being a criminal is that many of your friends are criminals, and even if you clean up your act it’s unlikely they’re going to do the same. Mitchel is soon reunited with Billy (Ben Chaplin), who introduces him to the big boss, Rob Grant (Ray Winstone). Grant and Mitchel will spar back and forth for much of the film, although almost exclusively through words, not actions. Grant is a threat, and we know that, but he’s not the prime focus of the plot; he’s like a sideshow attraction who pops up every now and then to cuss a lot, stomp around, and complicate matters.
What Mitchel really wants to do is get a real job, or at least, as real a job as an ex-convict can. He’s told that he can become an assistant/bodyguard to a young actress, Charlotte (Keira Knightley), who is continually hounded by the paparazzi. Mitchel begins to develop a connection with this actress, who lives platonically with another man, Jordan (David Thewlis). Much of the film involves dialogue between Mitchel and Charlotte, Mitchel and Billy, and Mitchel and Grant. There’s also a subplot involving Mitchel trying to hunt down a couple of kids who killed a homeless friend of his, although that only comes up intermittently.
London Boulevard has “gritty crime thriller” written all over it, although to what extent it’s thrilling is debatable. While each scene has talk of criminals, and of the crimes they commit, there’s rarely tension and there only truly is when the Winstone character shows up, and that’s only because Winstone has such a screen presence to him. Things could go horribly wrong for our lead, we think, because he’s fighting with a man played by Ray Winstone.
In fact, the only reason there are any thrills at all is because the nature of these characters means that they’re liable to go off at any moment. Almost all of them have the potential to kill — most of them have in the past — and we get to listen to dialogue and see how it impacts the person it’s been spoken at. That’s where most of the fun is: watching these dangerous people interact with other dangerous people, and seeing how they respond to each bit of dialogue.
And then there’s the love story, which develops as organically as synthetic oil. The two people hang out and talk — and say some things which attempt to be revelatory about human nature and of characters in movies — but they never appear to fall for one another until they go ahead and do just that. It’s not believable and happens simply because it must for the plot. Still, their exchanges of dialogue are worth listening to, even if the result doesn’t feel real.
I suppose that sentiment sums up the entirety of London Boulevard. It might not always be realistic, but it’s never dull and there’s usually some reason to watch or listen to it. The film also moves along at a good pace, has some interesting stylistic and visual choices, and contains a toe-tapping soundtrack. Right off the bat you hear “Heart Full of Soul” by The Yarnbirds, and if you’re not on-board with this musical choice, you’re probably not going to be okay with the rest of the film. It has that kind of vibe.
Exactly what the point of it all was is a question to which I never received an answer. For all the plotting, characters, and snappy conversations, it all leads to not a whole lot. It’s moderately entertaining but it seems rather aimless and as a result might feel like a waste of time for a lot of the audience. There are no big reveals and no incredibly memorable points. The story is one we’ve seen before and done better, and there’s little to stimulate the mind.
But, hey, London Boulevard marks the directorial debut of The Departed writer William Monahan, and he shows enough here that I hope he gets another shot at directing. He also cast good actors in the roles. Colin Farrell looks like a movie star as the sharply dressed criminal-looking-to-go-straight, Keira Knightley could be playing herself as a reclusive movie starlet, and Ray Winstone is terrifying as the underworld crime boss. Since so much of the film hinges on small facial reactions to dialogue, good acting is important.
London Boulevard isn’t a bad film and it has enough interesting elements to possibly be worth a watch, but if you’re looking for a thrilling film about criminals, you’ll want to look elsewhere. You’ll also want to keep looking if you’re hoping for a film with much of a point, because apart from some lines of dialogue scattered every now and then, the film is brain dead. It has good acting and there are moments of tension due to the nature of most of its characters, but it’s not an easy watch and its pointlessness will irritate a good number of people.