$7.50 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50
“London Boulevard,” a British thriller cum filme noire which was released in video-on-demand stateside before going into theaters on 11 November, would be a four-star movie if it were not for the sound recording. Your critic doubts that even most Brits can understand the South London gangster-speak of Ray Winstone’s mob boss Gant, not to mention that of his many hangers on. It falls to Irishman Colin Farrell’s Mitchell, an ex-con who wants to go straight, to enlighten audiences via his diction. Where are subtitles when you need them?
Other than that, the mix is fairly simple. Take Mitchell, who has just finished three years as a guest of Her Majesty, add a bunch of guys led by Gant and fronted by Mitchell’s best buddy Billy Norton (Ben Chaplin), a small time hustler and collector, who all want to bring him back to his pre-prison life (shades of Al Pacino in “The Godfather: Part III”) sprinkle with a two-bit connection, Briony played by Anna Friel, to an English Hollywood star, Charlotte played by Keira Knightley, who is pic’s female lead, add a dash of relentless paparazzi, and a stoned best friend/protector to said Hollywood star (Jordan played by David Thewlis), and you have a potentially bloody stew.
Pic does not disappoint.
Briony, who is not exactly the best of best-friends, puts Mitchell wise to a job looking after Charlotte, who spends her days holed up in a London mansion hiding from paparazzi. Exactly why she doesn’t just stand up and pose is not explained. One rule of celebrity photography is that if the picture is easy to make, no one wants it.
Mitchell eventually takes the job for Charlotte. They fall for each other and make plans to meet in Hollywood. It’s Mitchell’s ticket out of South London gangs. Charlotte is damaged goods. She was raped by an Italian producer on a shoot, who ended up dead from his own stash of Quaaludes thanks to Jordan, who may be a stoner but packs a pretty good punch. Her husband does everything in sight and eventually gets picked up for DUI in Spain. An escape to Hollywood is exactly what she needs.
Meanwhile, Gant is strong-arming Mitchell to go to work for him. Mitchell is a guy with heart and a sense of justice. It will be his undoing. In pic’s opening reel, Mitchell comes on a bogus blind guy who lives under a bridge. He’s a buddy. Said buddy gets beaten close to death by a couple of young thugs. Mitchell takes him to hospital and arranges for his (ultimately unsuccessful) treatment. Mitchell’s tragic mistake is that he must avenge his buddy’s death despite the latter’s advice to forget it. Considering all the other stiffs that Mitchell creates before heading off to Hollywood to join Charlotte, he could have omitted the last two. Instead they bite him in the behind in the same way the unlikely bartender dispatches John Wayne at the end of “The Shootist.”
In case anyone thinks that London gangsters are any less dangerous than the Russian mafia, consider this: A trail of dead bodies leads all the way to Mitchell’s drug-addicted sister, Penny (Ophelia Lovibond). Mitchell is responsible for just under half of them, some of whom richly deserve it. Winstone’s Gant is pure sociopath.
The final reel hammers home pic’s message, if there is one, in a pool of blood. The violence has to end somewhere. And sometimes it is the last shot one takes, the last person one offends, the least likely bête noire that is one’s undoing.
“London Boulevard” is a tightly wrought thriller that would be a lot better if it were not for the obscure (to American ears) South London accents. Lensing is on the money. Performances are spot-on. Editing is economical, and pic runs a mere 103 minutes. Helmer-screenwirter William Monahan adapted a crime novel by Ken Bruen. Monahan has a firm hand at the throttle. It is too bad that, absent subtitles, he did not bring some thesps into the sound booth to loop a number of unintelligible lines.
This R-rated pic (sex, violence, language, drug use) may be best remembered as the movie that proves that Keira Knightly is smoking hot without makeup, if one believes the press materials. Don’t think of taking the kids. But if you are ordering video-on-demand and have closed captioning on your TV, you could do worse than spend an hour and 43 minutes watching “London Boulevard.”