London Boulevard Review
It would seem that London Boulevard was not received so well upon its theatrical release in the UK. The film, which is the directorial debut of Oscar-winning The Departed screenwriter William Monahan, hasn't even opened stateside and, as far as I can tell, still lacks a firm release date here/there. (A reported February bow didn't happen.) It's probably assumed that the delayed North American release is a warning sign to the film's quality but another problem might also be its accented dedication to the British setting. The story itself is easy to export but some of those accents might not travel so well.
The source material is a book of the same name by Irish crime writer Ken Bruen and it's apparently a clear homage to Billy Wilder's film Sunset Blvd., hence the name that will make little sense in the movie version. After discovering the (tenuous) connection you can kind of see where Monahan's film matches up a tad with the Wilder classic. Still, it's not worth a comparison here or any meaningful discussion, as Monahan actually seems to have eliminated some of those similarities in his movie. Wipe the slate clean and move on.
London Boulevard stars Colin Farrell as Mitchel, a petty criminal just released from prison. He's exiting without parole and after serving three years for a crime that isn't fully detailed. Little pieces emerge just enough to give us an idea of what happened, that a violent altercation took place and Farrell's character shouldered the blame. Notably, he was involved with a twitchy crook named Billy (Ben Chaplin) who picks Mitchel up from prison and takes him to the very expensive flat he's been set up in, with the understanding that compensation will come at a later date. Problem is that Mitch wants to distance himself from the criminal underworld and he especially wants to avoid going back to prison. At this point, the story seems familiar and, despite having a comfortably worn quality, bettered elsewhere.
Two things emerge to shake up the proceedings. One is the eventual presence of Ray Winstone as the brutal gangster Gant, a very Ray Winstone-type of heavy who enjoys spouting the word "cunt" as often as possible. He clashes with Mitchel and not in an always predictable fashion. The dynamic established between these two is the strongest in the film. It's a small shame that so many other avenues have to be tested in the meantime. What never really works is the odd relationship between Mitch and Keira Knightley's Charlotte, a reclusive, depressed actress and paparazzi magnet. Mitchel is turned on to a job working for Charlotte that involves basic construction and maintenance duties as well as some security work in protecting her house from invasive photographers. He tries to balance this with other, less savory activities that are basically forced upon him by Billy and Gant. Stealing the film is David Thewlis as Charlotte's live-in friend Jordan, an occasional actor and producer and full-time druggie. He gets the most choice dialogue and delivers it effortlessly, making you want to give Naked yet another spin.
Farrell is very good in this type of role, the sort that seems to clash with his much more chatty image seen in interviews. His performance here is easily one of his toughest, most stoic characterizations. Mitchel seems to be continuously revealing himself through his interactions with others. He plays off of the showier characters. Knightley, for her part, is unfortunately more or less wasted. Monahan repeats quite a few of his victories from The Departed but once again cannot hide that he has little interest in female characters or any idea of how to paint them. Mitchel's sister Briony (Anna Friel) becomes another victim. She's offbeat, crazy and totally one-dimensional. Her entire presence in the film is indicative of its primary flaw. There's simply too much going on here, in too many directions.
Reservations and complaints aside, London Boulevard has a lot of something worthwhile to it. By that I mean that despite it sprawling too far beyond its means and ultimately failing to establish a believable connection between Mitch and Charlotte, the film is not without merit. It feels a little compromised in the editing, or perhaps that's just a product of a first-time director not fully in control of his craft just yet. But more works than doesn't, and it's not difficult to appreciate how Monahan has tried to merge some of the elements of the classic British gangster movie style with the flash available in contemporary filmmaking. Sharp suits and sharper cars are an occasional part of this, but the most dynamic kick is the lick-heavy rock soundtrack highlighted by The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and new tracks from Kasabian. Monahan lets music play a significant role in establishing an important cool about the picture and it does, for me, succeed in this regard. This is a movie where the faults are there and recognizable but, with the help of an exceptional cast, they don't become so fatal as to ruin it.
This UK Blu-ray release from Entertainment in Video (EIV) is locked to Region B. While some discs provide an onscreen reminder about the region coding or simply eject themselves from your player, I found this one to just refuse to function altogether when attempted in Region A.
The aspect ratio is initially played with a bit in the opening of the film, looking like it's Scope without anamorphic enhancement but soon settling into 1.78:1 for the duration. Colors look true and crisp. No damage to report. Detail is reasonably good. I saw no evidence of poor digital fiddling here. Overall, a good transfer for a new release title.
Audio really emphasizes the music in the film. The DTS HD 5.1 track doesn't seem to much care for dialogue. Volume of the spoken words varies, from an initially inaudible level to still rather weak positions in the mix. I opted for the English subtitles throughout my viewing, both because of how low the dialogue seems to be and because of some of the accents. These subtitles are optional and white in color. A second English audio option, a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, is like night and day in comparison to the DTS HD master audio. Dialogue is much easier to hear and understand, and the music and effects remain quite distinctive.
Extras are rather halfheartedly presented. There are some cast and crew interviews but instead of neatly editing them into a featurette they are just tossed on and divided by participant. Interviewees are: Colin Farrell (6:27), Keira Knightley (5:34), Anna Friel (1:54), Ray Winstone (3:30), Ben Chaplin (3:41), David Thewlis (3:36), writer/director William Monahan (8:06), and producer Graham King (3:56). Monahan's segment is probably the most interesting and substantial but there's a lot of repetitive smoke being blown across the board. A theatrical trailer (2:08) is a decent selling of the picture. Several previews for other movies play upon insertion of the disc.