Friday, December 2, 2011
"London Boulevard" (opening December 2 at Reading Gaslamp 15 Theaters) serves up another British gangster tale, this one starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley.
The British gangster genre has given us some truly great films. There's the 1947 "Brighton Rock" featuring a chilling performance by Richard Attenborough and then moving on through the decades with works like "Performance," "Get Carter," "The Long Good Friday," "The Krays," "The Limey," "Sexy Beast," "Gangster No. 1," and "44-Inch Chest." The best of these are gritty, dark tales with riveting performances at the core.
"London Boulevard" desperately wants to join these ranks. It marks the directorial debut of the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The Departed," William Monahan. It pairs up Colin Farrell and Ray Winstone, and throws in Keira Knightley for good measure. And while there are elements in this film that shine, it never coalesces into a kick-ass British gangster flick.
Farrell plays Mitchel (Colin Farrell), a con who emerges from Pentonville Prison after serving 3 years. He comes out with the good intention to stay out but hooking up with old pals doesn't bode well for that plan. His old friend Billy (Ben Chaplin) pulls him back into a world of crime, and this particular part of the London scene is ruled by mob boss Gant (Ray Winstone). The one ray of light for Mitchel comes from Charlotte (Keira Knightley), a movie star holed up in a mansion and trying to dodge the local paparazzi. Mitchel takes on the role of her protector and finds himself falling in love. But when he crosses Gant, he puts everyone in danger.
All the classic gangster elements are here but none of them are revved up enough to make the film rise about mere formula. It's solidly crafted but nothing special. Farrell, Winstone, and, in a supporting role, David Thewlis, kick the acting up to a highly compelling level but that's not enough to overcome the conventional and predictable script. It's nice to see Farrell do an intense serious turn after his enjoyably goofy gangster in "In Bruges." And Winstone, who played the sympathetic gangster in both "Sexy Beast" and "44-Inch Chest" gets to go nasty here and that is most definitely entertaining. But Knightley's jittery movie star takes the film down a few pegs and dilutes the story.
Monahan's script for "The Deaprted" crackled with some good dialogue but left much to be desired for my taste. Here Monahan writes and directs, and reveals a similar inconsistency. Some scenes, especially those with Farrell and Winstone, or Farrell and Thewlis, have a zing to them that makes them fun to watch. But he's at a loss as to what to do with Knightley's actress in distress. For a far better female character in a male gangster world check out Saffron Burrows in "Gangster No. 1." Monahan has many of the pieces needed for a great gangster pic but he doesn't quite know how to assemble them.
"London Boulevard" (rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use) could have been a lot better and it doesn't hold up against the best of the British gangster genre. But the solid acting and a few sharply written scenes make it at least entertaining.
Companion viewing: "Gangster No. 1," "Layer Cake," "Brighton Rock"