London Boulevard

Director: William Monahan
Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley
Runtime: 103 mins
Rating: ****

London Boulevard is a film that could have fallen down on any number of levels. Keira Knightley, the leading lady, is an actress who tends to polarise critics; it’s the first job in the director’s chair for William Monahan; Ray Winstone’s in it, and he has a tendency to be plain disgusting (I mean, look at his face); and Colin Farrell’s demonstrated his poor Laandan accent before. Even conceding the merits of the film, it’d be inexcusable – if only his physical and emotional honesty wasn’t so excellent.

For this and many other reasons, London Boulevard is straight-up brilliant. In every single way. It’s horrifyingly unoriginal, and it doesn’t really have a particularly tight plot, and yet it’s a delightfully profane and brilliantly constructed joy to watch from start to finish. It might be the best directing debut of the year. Granted, it’s not for everyone, but it’s a shining example of the genre it hails from.

Monahan, in addition to directing this film (his first feature), also adapted the screenplay, and it’s here that he shines; this is a man with screenwriting credits ranging from Body of Lies to The Departed, and it’s the latter that this bears the most resemblance to. London Boulevard is a sprawling gangster drama with brilliantly written characters that suit the actors down to a tee: I mentioned that Keira Knightley’s merits are disputable, but this may be the film that demonstrates that she can act rather than just set her jaw and glare at people. It has a fantastic if deliberately loose storyline, and some standout performances that enhance the lead roles rather than detract from them (Harry Potter, anyone?).

I mention Harry Potter deliberately. David Thewlis, known to millions thanks to his turn as Remus Lupin in the aforementioned franchise, plays an ex-actor turned occasional-heroin-user and semi-retired producer, shacked up with Keira Knightley’s neurotic and paranoid ex-actress, and he does a fantastic job of being totally yet endearingly insane to the point where you love him and remain genuinely scared of him throughout. And he’s one of the good guys. On the side of the villains (though, let’s be honest – Colin Farrell, the hero of the piece, plays an ex-con with shaky morals at the best of times) is Ray Winstone in what might be his finest role yet: it’s essentially reprising his classic role in Sexy Beast, but with a more psychopathic bent.

If you don’t like the genre of sprawling, city-wide gangster dramas, this might be the one that changes your mind – and if you already do, this one will rank among the greats of the last twenty years. Miss it at your peril.