The problem with an American directing a British gangster movie is that I don’t believe they understand our unique sense of humour. As bloody and nasty as this genre gets at times there’s always a rich vain of humour for example Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) Long Good Friday (1980) Get Carter (1971) and Sexy Beast (2000) where as London Boulevard (2010) is completely devoid of any wit. The American in question is Boston born William Monahan whose normal day job is a screenwriter and novelist, a man best known for his award winning screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s brilliant The Departed (2006) a remake of the Hong Kong franchise Infernal Affairs. London Boulevard is Monahan first attempt at directing and to be fair he had some great raw materials to work with.
There’s a good solid story based on a noir crime novel of the same name by Ken Bruen. It involves petty criminal and hard man Harry Mitchel just released from HM Prison Pentonville after serving three years for GBH. Mitchel is looking to set aside his past criminal life much to the displeasure of some of his colleagues. His old pal and fellow criminal Billy Norton finds him somewhere to live and try’s to encourage him to pick up where he left off before he was put away. A chance meeting in the local pub lead’s to an offer of employment as a minder for a beautiful reclusive actress called Charlotte who is being hounded by the paparazzi and is terrified of leaving her Holland Park home. However its made very clear to Mitchel that the local gang boss Gant has no intention of allowing the ex-con to work for any one else and could make life very uncomfortable for both Mitchel and Billy and anyone else who are not prepared to cowl tail to his psychopathic demands.
The cast would make any film director salivate. Collin Farrell plays Harry Mitchel; Charlotte is played by one of Britain’s most popular actress Keira Knightley. It gets even better, Ben Chaplin, who starred opposite Nicole Kidman in 2002’s Birthday Girl and who we’ve seen recently in Me and Orson Welles (2009) performing as the prominent English film and stage actor George Coulouris, portrays the greasy villain Billy Norton. Ray Winstone, one of our top actors well known for playing tough and violent parts gives a very credible performance as Gant. But the best roles are reserved for husband and wife David Thewlis and Anna Friel, Threwlis is terrific as Jordan, Charlottes “business manager” and Friel is wonderful as Mitchel’s inebriated empty-headed sister Briony. We must not forget the cameo roles, all worth a mention, Edie Marsan as a corrupt police detective, Stephan Graham as another of Mitchel’s criminal contacts and comedian Sanjeer Bhasker as a Doctor who foolishly falls in love with Briony.
Shot on location in London and Hammerwood Park, a country house near East Grinstead Sussex, by Chris Menges who has worked on both sides of the Atlantic on some great movies including Route Irish (2010) and three other Ken Loach films. Any film using The Yardbirds 1965 hit Heart Full of Soul as the main theme can’t be all bad, and the rest of the soundtrack is pretty good too. My only quibbles, other than the lack of humour, is Colin Farrell iffy cockney accent and the rather subdued role written for Charlotte, which does not allow Ms Knightley to shine quite as bright as you would normally have expected.