London Boulevard is the directorial debut of William Monahan. Monahan won an Oscar for his script for the film Departed, which would explain the similarities between the two films. The cinematography drapes the London cityscape with blood, grime, and smeared lipstick. At other times it is reminiscent of The Bodyguard—the protector and the protected falling in love.
Mitchel (Colin Farrell) has been in jail for three years for “grievous bodily harm.” His buddy Billy (Ben Chaplin) picks him up and immediately begins coercing him into criminal work. Mitchel tries to explain to him that he is never going back to jail. Billy, however, doesn’t seem to care. He continuously puts Mitchel is awkward situations where he has to defend himself. Eventually, Billy will make it near impossible for Mitchel not to confront Gant (Ray Winstone), the gang boss.
Gant is the perfect mix of scary and unbalanced. He becomes obsessed with getting Mitchel to join his gang (and quite possibly obsessed in other ways). At first it is because Mitchel has started working as security for the movie star Charlotte (Keira Knightley) and Gant sees this as an opportunity to lift treasures from Charlotte’s mansion. Mitchel refuses, Gant refuses to accept Mitchel’s refusal. Gant recognizes the potential in Mitchel, and that he is not like the other goons he hires. It is possible that Gant sees a bit of himself in Mitchel.
Charlotte adds another complex element to the storyline. She has retreated from the world (and her actor husband) behind the walls of her mansion to get away from the sleazy eyes of the paparazzi’s cameras, but also to hide behind the embarrassing truths that she can never allow to be known. While working on her last film, her Italian director raped her. We are led to imagine that there was a massive cover up, protecting the director and the secret. During her time with Mitchel, she begins to fall in love with him.
The center of the film is Colin Farrell’s Mitchel. He has the capacity for great violence, yet he has this weariness about him. When Charlotte asks him about prison, he simply says that it was quite embarrassing. It’s clear he doesn’t want to repeat the past. He tries so hard to be on the straight and narrow, and it seems the more he tries to do right, he is faced with options to do wrong, which are so much easier. He embodies the very struggle that Paul writes about in his letter to the Romans:
I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right. But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. (Romans 7:15-19, Common English Bible)
It’s like having an argument with yourself: the constant struggle between doing what’s good and doing what’s evil—doing what we know we should be doing and doing what we do. Mitchel’s relationship with Charlotte sparks within her the desire to start in a new film, which will require her to move to LA. The plan is for Mitchel to join her later. It’s about ending the arguments with themselves, leaving the walls of the past behind, and starting a new life. But… well, I won’t spoil it for you.
Like all good British films, London Boulevard has its fill of profanity. At times, the dialogue is hard to follow, more so with Ben Chaplin’s Billy than any other character. The film is plagued by the seemingly unnecessary storyline of Briony (Anna Friel), Mitchel’s bipolar sister. Her complicated life only complicates the film. We can forgive the film for Briony because they give us Jordan played by David Thewlis, who is probably best known as Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series. Jordan is an ex-hippie, workless actor, and active pothead. He is, by far, one of the most interesting characters.