Review: Colin Farrell turns in a terrific performance in the really poorly written — too many subplots, too many characters, too little continuity — film adaptation of Ken Bruen's crime novel London Boulevard. The film was released theatrically in the UK and Ireland in November 2010, and in limited release in the US a year later.
Farrell plays ex-con Mitchel, newly released from prison after a stint for grievous bodily harm, determined to lead a straight life. His old buddy Billy has other plans, teaming up to work for a loan shark named Gant. Mitchel declines, and is soon offered the position of caretaker/guardian for Charlotte, a reclusive young actress. But Billy is determined to get Mitchel back in the "game". Meanwhile, a homeless man who Mitchel knew before going to jail, is found badly beaten and later dies. Mitchel wants to avenge his death, but knows that it's a slipperly slope back into a life of crime.
It seems to me that the real problem with London Boulevard is that the screenwriter — that would also be the film's director — didn't know when to say "enough". So much is packed into this film that inevitably it gets cluttered with characters and scenes that really have no business being there. Worse, they squeeze out scenes that help tell the overall story. I came away with lots of unanswered questions, including …
• What makes Mitchel so special, particularly to Gant? Quite frankly, he seems more trouble than he's worth.
• Why is the public so enamored with Charlotte, so much so that photographers spend their entire day trying to get a picture of her? We later learn why she is a recluse, but not what she's done to deserve her A-list attention.
• Why is Charlotte living in London? She apparently has several homes, at least one far quieter than the hustle and bustle of the big city. If she wants to avoid the press and her fans, why not simply retire there?
• What's with the khaki-clad photographer, the one with the gun? He has no lines and doesn't seem to serve any purpose in any of the storylines.
• Why is Mitchel interested in the Nation of Islam? A black man is picked up by Gant and presented to Mitchel, who wryly notes that he "has a foreskin" and is therefore not the man he's looking for, but it's never made clear who Mitchel is looking for and why.
• Why is Mitchel looking for a Bosnian? Or is this Bosnian the same as the Nation of Islam man referenced above?
• Who is the man that owned the apartment that Mitchel first moves in to? I'm assuming it was someone who owed Gant money, and the house was possessed by Gant when the debt wasn't paid. But why is he even in the film?
• What was the whole point of the subplot involving the hospital doctor? And later in the film, how did Gant know about him?
And on and on. To be fair, some of the above questions may have been answered by one or more of the characters. But for reasons that probably date back to The Godfather, apparently it is required for gangsters to mumble their lines in films like this, so much so that a lot of the dialog is simply incomprehensible. Note to filmmakers: it is possible for a character to speak clearly and be menacing at the same time. I eventually turned on the closed captions, but possibly not early enough.
I enjoyed the character of Mitchel, especially as portrayed by Colin Farrell, torn between two worlds, and the various conflicts he faces in each. He seems to be a natural criminal but knows that if he wants a long life he must at least try to be a law-abiding citizen. And the storyline, at least as I imagined it might have existed in the book, has merit. David Thewlis as Charlotte's confidant adds some interest and contrast, but pretty much everything, and everyone, else should have been rewritten and/or recast.