Monday, November 07, 2011

Brit Noir: London Boulevard

It is no longer the sixties, but London still swings. Yet, one recently released ex-con has no interest in the party scene. Resolved never to return to prison and weary of his sister’s Lindsay Lohan lifestyle, the taciturn Mitchel seeks to live a quiet life. Unfortunately, he is inundated with all the wrong sort of job offers in William Monahan’s London Boulevard (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Mitchel is determined not to fall into his old ways, particularly not with his unreliable old running mate, Billy. Of course, that is exactly what is expected of him. Gant, the ragingly psychotic mob boss even wants to groom Mitchel for a leadership role. The ex-con finds unlikely refuge in the only straight job open to him. A veritable prisoner in her own home to the stalkerazzi outside, beautiful actress-model Charlotte needs handyman who can be handy with intruders. Mitchel’s criminal record in no way disqualifies him for the job.

Boulevard is billed as a modern riff on Sunset Boulevard, but the parallels are rather superficial. With her face on every magazine cover, Charlotte is more of a Greta Garbo than a Norma Desmond. Mitchel is also much more proactive than ill-fated Joe Gillis, eventually falling hard for the mysteriously morose Charlotte.

For some reason, there has been considerable negative “buzz” for Boulevard, but it is completely unjustified. It hums along nicely, self-consciously emulating the vibe of Get Carter and similarly stylish Brit noirs. Colin Farrell is in his element here, quite compelling as the hard-nosed anti-hero. Keira Knightley is appropriately alluring and vulnerable as the isolated Charlotte, as well.

However, for a film like this the supporting cast is almost more important than leads and Boulevard’s is terrific. Ray Winstone emphatically doubles down on his tough guy persona, savoring Gant’s villainous instability. Appearing as a corrupt cop, Eddie Marsan adds further genre color and credibility. Yet, David Thewlis really takes the honors as Jordan, Charlotte’s live-in manager and enabler, Boulevard’s Erich von Stroheim, if you will. We expect a heavy jealousy trip from him, but the gonzo agoraphobic turns out to be far more interesting than that. Regrettably though, the photogenic Ophelia Lovibond’s character Penny is abruptly dropped as soon as she introduces the leads, despite some nice chemistry with Farrell’s Mitchel in early scenes. Those are the dues.

Boulevard is a dark and tragic film, but it is also loads of fun. Noir fans will understand that paradox. A sleek morality play featuring a top-shelf ensemble, Boulevard is highly recommended when it opens this Friday (11/11) in New York at the IFC Center.