London Boulevard (**½)

Oscar winning scribe William Monaghan steps into the director’s chair for the first time with rather mixed results in the would be stylish crime thriller ‘London Boulevard’.  It’s got a few things to like about it, but it’s so haphazardly done and frustrating to watch that any praise for it has to be limited.  Monaghan does perhaps have a future directing once he irons out his issues, since he’s able to get some nice performances from his cast (including Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, and Ray Winstone), but he’s absolutely in love with his own writing, which leads to plenty of scenes that should be on the cutting room floor, or at least trimmed down.  That’s hardly an uncommon issue with screenwriters who step up to direct, but it’s still a problem that shoots his film in the foot.  His characters are interesting, and the plot regarding a somewhat reluctant criminal had plenty of potential, but it’s such a mixed bag that I can’t give it my recommendation.  It’s a step above mediocre, but that’s not much of a compliment.  Sadly, that’s about the highest praise that I can muster for this movie.  It’s just not worthy of much else.

Mitchel (Farrell) is just out of prison and looking to avoid getting into another mess with the gangster buddies that he used to run around with.  Despite the overtures of Billy (Ben Chaplin), Mitchel is more concerned with trying to keep his alcoholic sister Briony (Alison Friel) from being any more self destructive than she already is and giving some money to his homeless friend Joe (Alan Williams).  When Joe is killed by some young punks, Mitchel sets out to avenge his death, which puts him into contact with Billy’s boss Gant (Winstone), a classy but savage criminal.  At the same time, he’s spotted by Penny (Ophelia Lovibond) and hired to keep an eye on the reclusive actress Charlotte (Knightley).  He’s shown the ropes by her handler Jordan (David Thewlis) and before long, Mitchel and Charlotte are beginning to fall in love.  The problem is, when he refuses to go to work for Gant, the threat is put out there that Charlotte may not be safe.  This causes Mitchel to go on the warpath, but can he finish what he’s started?

Colin Farrell does a nice job in a role that’s more the strong silent type than the verbose type.  It’s not nearly on the level of his ‘In Bruges’ work, but it’s a very solid performance from an obviously talented actor.  This won’t come anywhere close to getting him into the Oscar conversation, but it’s a step in the right direction for further consideration down the road.  He has good chemistry with his co-star Keira Knightley, who makes the most of her somewhat limited screen time.  Knightley makes you buy that her character is a damaged movie star in a way that the script can’t.  Their quite romantic moments together are well done.  They’re both good, and so is Ray Winstone, chewing the scenery in the best way possible.  He’s a mix of high and low class, and his scenes brim with both class and tension.  The rest of the cast is less than memorable, aside from Thewlis, who’s pretty funny but misplaced and out of a different movie.  Ben Chaplin is fine, but forgettable, while Anna Friel is underused.  Also on hand are the aforementioned Lovibond and Williams, along with Eddie Marsan and Sanjeev Bhaskar in small roles.  The acting won’t win any accolades, but it’s the bets part of this flawed production.

William Monaghan deserved his Adapted Screenplay Oscar for ‘The Departed’, but he’s too eager to duplicate that success here and his script falls under that weight.  Adapted from the Ken Bruen novel, this flick has the less than prideful distinction of being both too long and too short.  The plot favors a longer and more thoughtful approach, but the material presented isn’t worth the hour and 45 minute runtime.  Monaghan’s script feels like a first draft, full of scenes and subplots that a director would have massaged or outright cut.  Too often it seems like it’s randomly put together, a definite no-no.  As a director, Monaghan is a work in progress, but he has potential.  Here he overuses music, creating a soundtrack that’s too busy and pointless.  He can direct actors though, so that’s something.  For now, I’m interested to see him direct again, but hopefully the product will be better next time.

Overall, ‘London Boulevard’ is instantly forgettable despite the occasional burst of originality and solid acting from Farrell, Knightley, and Winstone.  There’s a good movie somewhere here, but it’s always just out of reach.  It never gets too bad that you struggle with it, but you’re always aware how much better things should be.  As it stands, this flick is just another directorial debut by a writer who couldn’t make the jump without tripping…

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