Writer/director William Monahan has an affinity with gangsters. He won an Oscar for adapting the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs into The Departed, and now he's switched from the Boston underworld to London. London Boulevard has strong performances by the leads, and a certain style that is enjoyable to watch. However, the film's two stories never truly join as one and has one too many cliches to accept as a good movie.
Mitchel (Colin Farrell) is a criminal just out of prison. While he enjoys a great reputation among the London Undeworld (not to be confused with the London Underground--which is a very efficient and clean subway service I found easy to use when I went there), he wants to go straight. His buddy Billy (Ben Chaplin) is determined to get him back in. A money-collector for a Big Boss, this inebriated and twitchy enforcer tries but can't shake down Mitchel like he can those living in estates (what we in the U.S. would call projects).
Mitchel is hired to work security for Charlotte (Keira Knightley), an actress trying desperately to avoid the paparazzi after her marriage collapses. With her is Jordan (David Thewlis), a long-haired slightly effeminate hanger-on of Charlotte's. Before he begins his job, his father figure, a homeless man named Joe (Alan Williams), is murdered, but Joe is able to give Mitchel a description of his killer. Devastated, he swears revenge. The kindly Dr. Raju (Sanjeev Bhaskar) treats Joe and attends the funeral with Mitchel's slutty drunk sister Briony (Anna Friel). In order to get the plot, he's had to call Billy, who now expects a favor returned.
Mitchel goes with him to shake down more people, but one of them has help from Nation of Islam-types. In any case, Mitchel and Charlotte soon start to desire each other, the Big Boss Gant (Ray Winstone) keeps desiring Mitchel (professionally and perhaps physically), and eventually there has to be a confrontation between the unwilling Mitchel and determined Gant.
Already in the synopsis one can see the London Boulevard is throwing a lot of stories at you. The biggest problem in London Boulevard is that all the stories run parallel to each other but never connect unless Monahan has them come together. The stories of Mitchel/Charlotte and Mitchel/Gant appear to be two different films joined together. Even more unfortunate, both stories we've seen before and done better.
It is hard to believe that Charlotte would fall in love with Mitchel (even if it is Colin Farrell) because they spend so little time together. It is hard to believe that Gant is protecting the Footballer who killed Joe because Gant thinks he has potential to go into the big leagues. The idea of the homeless man who is special to the lead is nothing original, and add to that we never really see the connection between Joe and Mitchel. Joe was there only for two or three scenes and there doesn't seem to be any connection between them.
I also wondered why Gant would trust someone as clearly inept as Billy to do anything (when Billy finally ends up dead, one asks, 'what took them so long'?). While the suggestion that Gant may be homosexual is introduced, nothing comes from it and in the end, it is irrelevant to the plot.
At times Monahan appears to add things that are suppose to inspire fear but only have us scratching our heads. At one point, we are told that Gant has hired a major hitman named Storbor (the Serbian we're told), but given A.) we don't know who this guy is and B.) how quickly Mitchel takes care of him, were we really suppose to be scared that Storbor was coming?
It's the subplots that get in the way: the romance subplot between Charlotte and Mitchel, Mitchel's issues with his slutty drunk crazy sister, the sub-subplot of Briony's relationship with Dr. Raju or Mitchel's relationship with Joe, a corrupt cop hassling Mitchel...all these threads never connect to each other into ONE story, just a collection of stories that share only Mitchel in all of them.
It's not that London Boulevard is missing style. Monahan from the opening and use of music signals this is suppose to be a stylish modern gangster film. Farrell's calm, almost mournful demeanor makes his occasional bursts of violence more jarring, and Knightley does some of her best work as the disturbed actress. While it's nice to see Thewlis stretch, someone should have told Remus Lupin to tone it down a bit. Chaplin, an actor that perhaps should be better known, is better than the material as the pathetic, twitchy Billy.
London Boulevard is a film that is style over substance. It has good performances in it (in particular Farrell and Knightley) but it is trying too hard to have so many stories (and stories we've seen before) into one film. It would have helped the film if there had not been so many things going on and kept to one or two stories. It's clear that London Boulevard needs some roadwork.