London Boulevard review ?½

William Monahan won an Oscar for his screenplay of The Departed and here makes his directorial debut in a parallel milieu of dodgy gangsters, bad behaviour and double dealings. Only this time it's a cast of Brits doing their level best at playing diamond geezers and cut-throat villains. They all try their damndest but the overall result is unpersuasive. Shame, as there's the germ of a good idea here but it fails to come to fruition. There are several plot strands but they don't coalesce and ultimately it all makes for a desperate muddle.
 
Colin Farrell plays former convict Mitchel, fresh out of Pentonville Prison after having served three years for GBH. Former acquaintance Billy (Chaplin), a seedy lowlife, recruits him to help him with his "collection" jobs, but Mitchel is also offered work by movie star Charlotte (Knightley) to protect her from the paparazzi that are always camped outside her Holland Park abode. He begins to fall in love with the reclusive actress and the feelings are reciprocated. Meanwhile, malevolent bad boy Gant (Winstone) wants to employ Mitchel for his services and won't take no for an answer. The stage is set for the world to fall in on the unlucky chap - even his alcoholic sister (Friel) is involved - but will he see a light at the end of the tunnel? A new life with Charlotte could beckon if he can rid himself of the criminal scum that want to suck him back in.
 
Too many subplots fail to grip. Just as we're getting interested in the Mitchel/Charlotte scenario, the two outsiders from different sides of the tracks becoming drawn to one another, we're swiftly plunged back into another gangland conflict with Winstone terrorising a poor unfortunate while trying to bring Mitchel onside. It's nothing we haven't seen before and drags the narrative down.
 
There are some bright spots though. Knightley is as luminously beautiful as ever, though surely a movie star of her character's proportions would send someone else out to buy tampons, while David Thewlis contributes a delightfully over-ripe performance as a fellow actor living at her home, constantly stoned but proficient with his fists nonetheless. Ben Chaplin also shines as the dishevelled gofer always trying to accommodate big Ray, constantly making frightened efforts to please him. It's a first rate turn with bags of energy.
 
But overall the enterprise lacks appeal and you're never won over or convinced by it. There's good location photography of the capital but too many logic loopholes - what exactly is the purpose of Eddie Marsan's role? - and they never get the tone right. It's not suspenseful enough and the more jaunty aspects fail to charm. Despite the high pedigree of talent involved, this one just doesn't cut the mustard. In fact, it's a mess. Thumbs down I'm afraid.

London Boulevard at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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