Friday, May 13, 2011

London Boulevard

Forced Romance

If a beautiful world renowned actress asks in point blank fashion the very first time you meet her, whether you will be able to protect her, the only answer that's valid, is a Yes, even though you have absolutely no idea why that was asked and how you're going to fulfill that promise. That's what transpired when Keira Knightley's character Charlotte meets Colin Farrell's Mitchel initially, setting the stage and sowing the seed for a thick romantic angle in London Boulevard.

Based upon the novel by Ken Bruen and adapted for the screen by William Monahan, who got his fair share of fame from adapting the Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs into Martin Scorsese's The Departed, London Boulevard had a lot of good things on its side to guarantee success but its potential got lucked out through some astonishingly perplexing pace and development, with aspects of it feeling rushed yet stagnating at the same time. Monahan's debut directorial feature film, it goes to show his inexperience in helming what would be a Brit gangster movie, riddled with cliched moments and characters that made it a mediocre effort at best.

Colin Farrell's Mitchel is a man just released from prison, and as far as stories go there are a dime a dozen of tales where the anti-hero decides to turn over a new leaf after a jail term, but finding himself inevitably sucked back into the life of violence, with the adage of living and dying by the sword being that constant reminder. He gets offered two paths at his crossroads in life, one to become a protector and handyman to a reclusive actress who is constant paparazzi fodder, and the second is to enter the fold of a vicious gangster Gant (Ray Winstone) who sees Mitchel as a promising lad to have to do battle on his side. Trouble comes from Gant being rejected outright for that of a more normal livelihood, and revenge at being jilted (yes, it does seem that way) is of the order as Mitchel tries to become that romantic hero in Charlotte's life.

That basically sums up the plot, filled with enough violent moments ranging from smashing a man's face on a glass to cold blooded murder, and even suggestion of violence through shots such as a clump of hair bloodily stick on a hammer. Gangsters spew expletives, and that was peppered throughout everyone's dialogue. But these elements do not make an exceptional gangster film. For starters, perhaps the English was too heavily accented that I can barely make out what each of the characters are saying, with plenty of mumbling being no help at all.

While Colin Farrell had enough of screen time to show off his acting chops, exuding his suave charisma as the gangster determined to stay on the right side of the law, little can be said of the same for Keira Knightley, whose Charlotte is as thin as cardboard and doesn't make for a believable character, who had chosen to confine herself and live as a recluse just because of a reason mentioned in passing, and the loads of creepy, insult spewing paparazzi who invade her comfort zone when she steps out of the house. The romance between Knightley and Farrell also felt too rushed and forced as you stay a step ahead and predicted the outcome. And when the lead characters do not share chemistry, it's half the battle lost.

Probably the key saving grace to the film is the excellent cast of supporting actors who brought a little bit extra to the table despite their limited screen time, and it's certainly their star studded presence that helped. Anna Friel plays the scatty sister of Mitchel's who truth be told is a needless character, and David Thewlis' perpetually high business manager of Charlotte's bring much needed light-heartedness to what is a film that takes itself too seriously. Ben Chaplin as the bumbling hoodlum also brought on some laughs through his character's unfortunate ineptness, and I was looking forward to more scenes with the character that was not to be.

First films come with limitations no matter what the filmmaker's pedigree is, and London Boulevard is a classic case example of just that, and wasted potential. Great soundtrack though that helped to carry this film through from start to finish.

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