London Boulevard should have had it all – an excellent cast, an Academy Award winning writer and director, and an original score from Kasabian guitarist, Sergio Pizzorno.
Something should have twigged when we learnt that Colin Farrell would be ditching that gorgeous Irish accent, in favour something a little more ‘Saauf Landan’, and Keira Knightley was trying to pass herself off as an actress that hates being in the limelight.
But still, the trailer looked good, didn’t it? It had an assortment of fairly humorous moments, some suitably violent bits, and The Clash‘s London Calling, which y’know, isn’t the worst thing they could have chosen, right?
And, in fact, for the first ten minutes or so, it’s pretty good. Mitchell (Farrell) is released from Pentonville prison, and is reunited with the slightly dim, not-quite-gangster, Billy, played by Ben Chaplin. Anna Friel shows up as Mitchell’s alcoholic sister, Briony, who manages to perfectly capture the balance needed for her character, in being both hilarious and tragic at the same time.
There’s even an encounter with 126.96.36.199‘s Ophelia Lovibond, whose upper-class drawl and temptress-eyes look like they might allude towards a vaguely interesting sub-plot. “I might have a job for you”, she smiles seductively, “are you…handy?”
Sadly, it turns out she’s just friends with reclusive film starlet Charlotte (Knightley), meaning she’s entirely obscured from the rest of the plot, as we’re forced to focus on Knightley’s questionable sincerity as an actress haunted by the price she’s paid for fame.
Even sadder is the fact that, just as this film really starts to head downhill, legendary British film gangster Ray Winstone turns up. Clearly he’s expecting something of a similar calibre as Final Cut or Sexy Beast (weren’t we all…) and no-one’s had the heart to tell him otherwise. So he prattles on about being ‘a gangster for life’ and all that sort of thing, but by this point it’s starting to dawn on just about everybody that somewhere along the line, something’s gone horribly wrong.
As Knightley hides behind oversized sunglasses and floats around with a paintbrush in an attempt to give her character something resembling depth, Farrell does his best to remind everyone that this is a gangster film, and runs all over London waving guns around and seeking revenge for something or other. Of course, it’s tricky, because he’s not actually a gangster any more and, believe it or not, is trying his best to stay on the straight an narrow.
Fortunately, there are a few rare moments where you can forget this awkwardly under-developed plot, and enjoy the quintessentially British characters and scripting that should have run through the entire thing. Mr. Nice‘s David Thewlis is great as Charlotte’s eccentric ‘business manager,’ Jordan – a failed actor who spends more time harvesting poppy seeds and delivering subtle one-liners than faffing around with Charlotte herself – and who would blame him?
The much hyped score Sergio Pizzorno is also very much overshadowed, but fortunately it’s by an enjoyable upbeat sixties soundtrack – which is great fun, if not entirely appropriate.
If Danny Dyer had starred in London Boulevard, it would have undoubtedly been one of his better films. Unfortunately, he didn’t, and the cast are wasted on a sub-standard script that leaves you with the feeling that the novel, on which it was based, was probably a lot better. Of course, very few will now choose to read it, having been subjected to this poor adaptation.