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Non-Review Review: London Boulevard

The British criminal underworld has provided a background for countless movies over the past few decades, a rich cinematic tapestry drawing from classics like Brighton Rock through to neo noir like The Long Good Friday to modern pop classics like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. However, London Boulevard isn’t a masterpiece like the earlier examples. It tries to find a niche balance between gritty urban violence and surreal bizarre quirkiness, but ends up just positioning itself awkwardly between comedy and action, never really finding its own footing.

Facing up to the past...

The plot follows a convict recently released from prison who vows that he will never set foot inside a cell again. Confronted with his ties to “the firm”, he tries as hard as he can to live a decent life on the right side of the law. He gets a job as a handyman for a recluse young celebrity (who, counterintuitively, appears to have sold her image rights to every advertising agency in the greater London area – which is particularly odd because she doesn’t appear to be selling anything). However, as his old life calls him back, he finds it increasingly difficult to do right by those around without sinking deeper and deeper into a world that would consume him, given the chance.

Crime movies aren’t generally hugely original. I mean, there are occasional innovative takes on the genre, but they are typically tragedies about people unable to escape their backgrounds. However, London Boulevard doesn’t really try to offer anything new – as I watched the final credits went by, I couldn’t help be feel like I’d just watched Carlito’s Way with a cockney accent, right down to the last couple of minutes. The bulk of movie is blandly predictable, with little or no innovation.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes it is perfectly entertaining to see a talented cast and crew bringing a conventional story to life. However, there’s really nothing too exciting here. It isn’t that the cast and crew aren’t particularly talented – despite some rather obvious missteps, Colin Farrell is a solid leading man, and the supporting cast includes old reliables like Ray Winstone, David Thewlis and Anne Friel. However, neither Farrell nor Winstone are given anything particularly special to do. Given it’s the directorial debut from the writer of The Departed, it’s not too surprising to see Winstone playing a sociopathic crime lord, but there’s nothing especially interesting about his character.

(Reluctant) partners in crime...

Thewlis and Friel do much better and pretty much manage to inject what little energy there is into the film. However, neither character is really given much to do (although Thewlis does play a significant part in the climax) and they often disappear from the narrative, popping randomly in and out. However, they don’t ever really play big enough parts to engage the audience, and we’re left with a primary cast which can’t really excite too much audience interest.

Keira Knightley represents the film’s second nominal lead (after Farrell), playing the reclusive starlet. However, she never feels like she’s a leading character – interestingly, she explains her retirement from acting by complaining about the fact that most female lead characters exist in order to provide a sounding board for the male lead, which is exactly the purpose she seems to serve here. Perhaps the movie is engaging in meta-criticism, criticising itself, but then why not simply write the movie better in the first place? More than that, I’ve never been convinced of Knightley as a solid leading lady, and she doesn’t exactly win me over here – her delivery is awkward, and she never makes her character feel like anything more than a plot device.

In defense of the film, it does feature a rather wonderful classic British soundtrack, which lends the movie a nostalgic feeling without ever particularly romanticising anything. It speaks to a film which clearly appreciates classic British pop culture. The film is reasonably well-directed, but the problems lie with the script. Unfortunately, there’s just not anything really there to compliment these factors.

London Boulevard is a rather disappointing little film, particularly given its pedigree. There’s a lot of talent here, but none of them are really doing too much. The movie feels like it’s just going through the motions as it charts the lead character’s struggle to escape his lifestyle, painting its picture by the numbers – but with little or no energy to propel it through. Unfortunately, in this case, London isn’t quite calling.

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