Film Review: ‘London Fields’ Should Have Stayed Buried on the Shelf

Right off the bat, this should be addressed. “London Fields” began shooting over five years ago, back in 2013. Like we said recently in an article about films in Post Production Hell (here), that’s not usually promising. It isn’t always the kiss of death, but it’s something to be avoided. However, in the case of this film, it certainly means this is something to be avoided. One of 2018’s very worst movies, it should have stayed on the shelf where it belonged. It’s barely watchable and is a black mark on the resumes of everyone in this cast. This isn’t finally coming out into theaters, it’s escaping into them after a battle to rightly hide it.

Where to start with “London Fields” and its utter lack of quality? From poor acting (one person especially is guilty of this, but more later) to indifferent filmmaking, nothing works. Plus, not a damn moment is interesting in the slightest. It feels like director Matthew Cullen just goes to a shot of Amber Heard in some form of undress whenever he’s worried the audience is fading. So, the movie has that shot every couple of minutes or so. It’s an utter train wreck. Who the hell was this made for? Well, maybe Johnny Depp, when he was still with Heard (he even has a small role here), but that’s another story.

Our protagonist is Samson Young (Billy Bob Thornton), a writer looking for inspiration in London. Setting up shop in the flat of author Mark Asprey (Jason Isaacs), with whom they’ve traded residences, Samson is searching for a new story. He finds it when he lays eyes on Nicola Six (Heard). He sees her right as two other men do, and each sees in her what they desire. Before long, Samson is writing again.

Here’s the catch. He’s writing because he discovered in talking with the recently widowed Nicola that she has foreseen her own death. What’s more, she knows who will kill her. He suspects it’s one of the two men from before, either the low-class thug Keith Talent (Jim Sturgess) or Guy Clinch (Theo James). With affairs going on with all three of the men in almost an instant, she remains a mystery. For Samson though, that’s all he needs to begin writing his masterpiece. No points for guessing who ultimately ends up the murderer.

“London Fields” can’t even offer up any strong performances to cover its other flaws. Billy Bob Thornton sleepwalks his way through this one. He looks as bored as I’ve ever seen him. Amber Heard looks very good here but is given nothing to do. She vamps it up, but to what end? Both of them clearly know they’re in a bad movie. Unfortunately, they don’t do anything with that information. Jim Sturgess hams it up, but true to form for this disaster, he just turns in stunningly bad work. Sturgess goes all in, but the completely wrong direction. Whether that’s better or worse than Heard and Thornton’s indifference is up for debate. Theo James is completely forgettable, as is Jason Isaacs, while a cameo from Johnny Depp is pretty terrible. Supporting turns here include Gemma Chan and Cara Delevigne, though neither leaves a mark. The acting is yet another black hole for a work full of them.

Filmmaker Matthew Cullen is a music video director, and in “London Fields,” it shows. Unfortunately, it shows for all the wrong reasons. Unable to keep from cutting quickly for no reason, Cullen shows no style that suggests a feature filmmaking future. Throw in the ogling of Heard and it’s a less-than-memorable debut. Just as complicit here is screenwriter Roberta Hanley, who shows no feel for making something cinematic out of Robert Amis‘ novel. So little of note happens. It’s a shame whenever a piece of literature is bungled during the adaptation to the big screen, but this is an especially bad hatchet job. Frankly, it’s shocking that this creative team got any of the talent involved. The most shocking? The fact that Oscar-winning DP Guillermo Navarro contributed the awful cinematography.

It seems only fair to quote the late great Roger Ebert and his notorious “North” pan, to sum up, “London Fields” and my feelings about it:

“I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

As always, Ebert said it best. This is atrocious and is a must miss, plain and simple. Avoid it at all costs. Trust me. It’s a disaster and easily one of the worst movies of the year.

“LONDON FIELDS” IS DISTRIBUTED BY GVN RELEASING AND OPENS IN THEATERS ON OCT. 26.

GRADE: (★)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “London Fields” rank among the contenders!