Said to be based on a book by Ken Bruen, I thought London Boulevard would be worth starting to watch when it cropped up a few times on TV in the UK last week. The plot is very simple: a man (Colin Farrell) is released from prison determined to go straight, but immediately accepts dodgy friend Billy’s offer of a free house to stay in, even though Colin knows that the house is owned by a doctor who has been struck off under suspicious circumstances and now seems to be a social centre for Billy’s gang. Colin also has a lock-up containing bundles of money, photos of (presumably) the wife and kids, and an unfeasibly large collection of clean, perfectly pressed suits, but we don’t know how he’s paid for it all these years or why he doesn’t stay there out of temptation’s way – even a lock-up is surely preferable to what is likely to transpire from kipping at the doctor’s place. (Colin is pretty dim for someone determined to go straight after a jail ordeal.)
There are a few welcome-home parties in various pubs, during which we learn that Colin is friendly with most of London’s gangland but not part of it – though possibly teetering on the brink. He ‘rescues’ his sister, superbly played by Anna Friel, who is addicted to sex, drink, pills, danger, drugs and anything else going. We move to the main plot, in which Colin is asked by a leading actress, Keira Knightley, to be her bodyguard and keep away the relentless paparazzi who camp outside her posh London home. Colin dithers, because he’s attracted to Keira and thinks that being one of the hired help would not be an appropriate position from which to start a relationship. (David Thewlis, another great acting turn, is a doped-up, effete, unemployed actor who lives with Keira and takes care of her, but he does not seem to be “bodyguard” material, unlike brooding Colin).
Colin is also getting more embroiled with Billy, tagging along while Billy shakes down various poor council-estate tenants for money. It turns out that Ray Winstone is the gang lord behind this operation – once Ray sees Colin’s class act he spends the rest of the film trying to persuade Colin to work for him so he can get rid of the unintelligent, incompetent Billy and increase the reach of his criminal empire.
For the first three-quarters, this film is pretty gripping and, despite the clichés, is distinctive. The script sparkles, the acting is great and the art direction fabulous (London is a major star of the movie). Keira turns in an excellent performance as a nervy superstar, isolated and abused, fragile and vulnerable. Colin seems finally to have decided to reform and to embark on a new life with her in Elysium (aka Los Angeles). Unfortunately, the film chickens out at this point, rapidly sinking into a mire of predictability in which everyone kills or tries to kill everyone else, at the same time behaving extremely stupidly (not locking doors when you know people are after you is a fault of almost every character, for example) however contradictory to the way in which their characters have previously been presented. What a pity that the issues that had been addressed earlier in the movie were abandoned in favour of a naff, predictable and boring ending.
London Boulevard official trailer (YouTube).