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London Boulevard


Stars: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone, David Thewlis, Ben Chaplin, Anna Friel, Eddie Marsan, Sanjeev Baskar, Ophelia Lovibond

Director: William Monahan

In the 1950s, American directors frequently came to Britain, most of them to make B feature crime thrillers with a (usually) fading Hollywood star in the hope of giving the movies some Stateside appeal.

Here Monahan, whose screenplay for Scorsese’s The Departed earned him a well-deserved Oscar, partially follows in that tradition - except that London Boulevard is clearly no B film. It is, however, a crime thriller, which pitches recently released convict Farrell (“I was a criminal – presently I’m just unemployed”), who initially intends to go straight, into an ever more complex slew of crime and into the increasingly dangerous orbit of London gangster Winstone. Winstone, embarrassingly out of place in The Departed, is back in his by now familiar deeply unpleasant hoodlum mode: think ‘Sexy Beast’, only beastlier and sporting a beard and a three piece suit and dining in expensive and elegant London milieus.

Monahan’s muscular screenplay (adapted from a novel by Ken Bruen) is hard-nosed, violent and foul-mouthed and has Farrell returning to low-level wrongdoing with old friend Chaplin (unexpectedly effective as a hood) in exchange for somewhere to live, becoming involved with film star Knightley (the best she has been in ages, probably due in no small measure to what amounts to a beefed-up character role) who was badly traumatised as the result of having been raped while filming in Italy and is now being hounded by paparazzi in her luxury London home. And while Farrell and Knightley’s relationship deepens, his relationship with Winstone becomes more dangerous…

Farrell, employing a pretty satisfactory Cockney accent, is remarkably good, Winstone transforms type-casting cliché into convincing characterisation and there are useful contributions from Thewlis as Knightley’s depraved ‘guardian’ (“I was on a kids show, then I was on methadone, then I was a producer”) and Friel as Farrell’s trouble-seeking sister.

Monahan’s directorial debut shows him to be a good storyteller (while his American eye for London locations creates effectively off-centre views of the city, nicely burnished by Chris Menges’ atmospheric cinematography). He tells a good story and he tells it well but makes the creative mistake of aiming his film at moviegoers rather than at reviewers.

What you get is an updated, nastier riff on The Long Good Friday, which settles for strong narrative instead of artistic flourishes. It may not be ‘art’ as we know it, Jim, but it’s certainly damn good strong entertainment.

Alan Frank

USA/UK 2010. UK Distributor: Entertainment Film Distributors. Colour.
104 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 25 Nov 2010