London Boulevard (2010)

Posted on November 12, 2014

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Mitchel (Colin Farrell) gets out of prison, and his gangster buddies immediately try to pull him back into the life. His work as a handyman brings him into contact with Jordan (David Thewlis) and Jordan’s famous actress sister, Charlotte (Kiera Knightley). Mitchel has to find a way to avenge a friend, protect his sister (Anna Friel), avoid mob boss Gant (Ray Winstone), and fall in love with Charlotte.

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Short Version

A clear-cut story with an ending that left me wondering.

 

Long Version

A character, in a context, with a conflict between his greatest fear and his greatest desire – that’s the basic definition of story.

Mitchel exists in contemporary England. Mitchel’s greatest desire is to reach a world of love and happiness. That sounds incredibly sappy, but the movie does a good job of showing that Mitchel comes from a broken life. His sister is a junkie, and all the “friends” he has are deadbeats, losers, and criminals. He wants more, and Colin Farrell does a great job of letting us inside a confident, tough, man who isn’t sure he deserves love or a better life.

His greatest fear is that he will fall back into the gangster life and go back to prison, because he’s just as much a loser as the people around him. His conflict comes from being seen as tough, loyal, and close-mouthed, and thus valued by the local gangs. Gant wants Mitchel in his pocket because of who Mitchel was when he went to prison.

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Charlotte is an actress who would rather be admired and respected than famous. Her greatest desire is to be left alone. Her conflict comes from the paparazzi who hound her. Her greatest fear is that her stalker ex-husband will destroy the fragile, carefully constructed world she’s built.

Jordan is Charlotte’s stoner brother. He’s sweet, and he loves his sister. His greatest desire is that she be safe. The selfish side of that is that while she’s safe, he doesn’t have to work or worry about how he can afford his next fix. Jordan doesn’t have a clear fear, but his conflict is that he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing, and he knows it. When Mitchel frightens off some greedy contractors, Jordan immediately recognizes that Mitchel can protect Charlotte better than Jordan. That makes Jordan uneasy, because he’s not sure what role that leaves for him in Charlotte’s life.

The fact that writer/director William Monahan (adapting Ken Bruen’s novel) manages to give us three intertwining stories makes this a film worth watching, all by itself. Adding to that is the film’s lovely production, and excellent performances. Seriously – that’s an amazing cast!

I know that Colin Farrell can seem full of himself. I know that he’s been nicknamed “the Lusty Leprechaun.” I also know that he’s an excellent actor who tends to shine brightest in smaller movies like Ondine, In Bruges, and this one. Yes, he gets big Hollywood movies, and he works hard in them. But the moments when his choices surprise us, the audience, seem to occur more often in smaller films. Can’t wait to see him in the next season of True Detective!

Ray Winstone can play a gangster in his sleep, but he doesn’t. He brings the full force of his instrument to bear as the ruthless Gant. Kiera Knightley takes big Hollywood roles that get lots of publicity, but she also works her ass off in movies that require her to take risks and make brave choices. I thought Charlotte was a brilliant character, and Kiera Knightley demonstrates that she’s far more than a pretty face. I noticed David Thewlis back in 1996 (DragonHeart and The Island of Dr. Moreau). I’ve been watching him ever since. He’s a very smart actor, and he’s very good at making the audience aware that his characters have inner lives.

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Now, I’m going to get spoiler-y. I hope that you still want to see the movie, to see how the stories resolve, even if you know how they resolve. If you don’t want spoilers, scroll on down to the conclusion and then hit that Paypal link (shameless plug).

Mitchel’s old buddy, Billy Norton (Ben Chaplin) rats him out to Gant. Everything Mitchel cares about is just leverage for the gangster boss, Gant. Mitchel kills Gant to protect Charlotte and his sister, and is then killed by two punks Mitchel’s been hunting for killing his friend. Jordan goes off to the country and kills himself. Charlotte goes off to America, alone and unprotected.

One way to read that is as a tragic ending to damaged lives, and we pity poor, vulnerable, Charlotte.

Except there’s something in Kiera Knightley’s performance that suggests otherwise, and I think the director encouraged it. In fact, I want to read the novel to see if it’s more clear there.

I think that Charlotte manipulated most of the men in her life. It’s explicit in the story that she left her husband after she gained success, and financial independence, as an actress. She used him to keep herself fed and clothed and dumped him when she didn’t need him anymore.

When she became famous and needed help, she took advantage of her brother Jordan. She gave him money and a place to live, and he handled every aspect of her life that she didn’t enjoy. When Mitchel came into their lives, she saw his gangster past as a way to eliminate her ex-husband and scare off the paparazzi. Obscurely, I think she felt safer in America, where she had less history, and fewer emotional entanglements.

The impression that I got, watching her debark her plane in LA was that she was finally coming home, and all the damage she left in her wake meant nothing to her.

Conclusion

I know, it’s a dark and misogynistic read. See the movie yourself, assuming you enjoy crime noir films, and decide for yourself. Am I imagining it, or is Kiera Knightley a dynamite femme fatale?

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Posted in: Movies