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“London Boulevard”: Road to Nowhere?

May 8, 2012

How does a gangster movie starring Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley and a slew of great British character actors that was written and directed by an Oscar winner go all-but-straight to video? I found out when I finally caught up with London Boulevard, the directorial debut of The Departed screenwriter William Monahan, which was released in only one U.S. theater before quietly getting dumped on DVD/VOD.

London Boulevard isn’t a terrible movie; it’s just all over the map. In one of his most impressively restrained performances ever, Farrell seethes as a recently sprung ex-convict who’s trying to go straight, with no help from his dimwitted former criminal accomplice (Ben Chaplin, stretching himself to almost cartoonish proportions). He considers taking a job working security for a Garbo-esque starlet (Keira Knightley, working well within her limited range). But of course, he falls in love with her instead.

Monahan displays some of the visual panache and love of ’60s rock that defines his ex-collaborator Martin Scorsese, but he’s not able to maintain a consistent tone for the film. Is it a dark Mob thriller? A showbiz satire? A family drama, as Farrell cares for his bipolar sister (Anna Friel)? Maybe Marty or Quentin could hit the target mood of tense, uncomfortable laughter, but first-time auteur Monahan misses badly.

That said, there are a number of great individual scenes, and fine performances from The Departed‘s Ray Winstone (as a crime lord with a penchant for sharing irrelevant anecdotes right before he whacks somebody) and Harry Potter‘s David Thewlis (as Knightley’s drugged-out protector). Plus, Stephen Graham—Boardwalk Empire‘s Al Capone—fits right in, and gets to use his real British accent for a change.

I feel bad for Farrell; he pissed away his career by turning himself into a tabloid punchline (he must’ve enjoyed the scenes in London where he gets to punch out the paparazzi) and giving too many phoned-in performances (Phone Booth, The Recruit). But he’s proven he can act in films as diverse as Crazy Heart and In Bruges. He’ll have a chance to redeem himself in this summer’s Schwarzenegger reboot Total Recall as well as Seven Psychopaths, which reteams him with Bruges writer-director Martin McDonagh. Here’s hoping fans don’t have total recall of all the horrible choices Farrell’s made and put his star back where it belongs: on Hollywood Boulevard.

Where did Colin Farrell’s career take a wrong turn? Post a comment!

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One Comment
  1. Teme permalink

    Very interesting question. He was so great in In Bruges — perfect chemistry with Brendan Gleeson — and I usually have to get up and leave early when it comes to gore. But that movie held my attention to the very end. Maybe he needs a pairing like that? — almost like a straight man to a comic.

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