May 20, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 20 October 2011 11:03
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film from Great Britain, London Boulevard.Since Hollywood’s early days, the movies have loved gangsters. From the James Cagney classics of the 1930s to the Godfather epics of the 1970s, audiences have been fascinated with reel tales of the underworld, an appeal that continued with such recent hits as The Departed and American Gangster.
The popularity of gangster films yields a few familiar story elements. At some point in the story, the hero will want to go clean. At another point, he will fall in love with someone he should avoid. And, inevitably, he will find that the gangster world is difficult to escape, no matter how strong his intentions or his hopes for romance.
London Boulevard — a new independent film opening soon in theaters — tries, with some success, to break free of gangster film conventions. As it opens, Mitchel — effectively played by Colin Farrell — completes his prison sentence with the resolve to live a crime-free life. But, as often happens with such intentions, his friends from the past have other ideas. They remain deeply involved in the London gangster world and want him to return to the fold. As tempting as the lifestyle they provide might be, Mitchel is determined to start a new chapter, hoping to put all of his underworld days behind.
But this is a gangster movie and, as the genre requires, nothing is as easy as it should be. As soon as Mitchel tries to take a step forward — by seeking a job as a bodyguard for a young actress in hiding (portrayed with surprising spontaneity by the usually predictable Keira Knightly) — he steps back into the underworld by joining the mob boss in a new crime wave. Soon, Mitchel experiences the standard good vs. evil conflict that gangster movies feature, reminding us that, even at the movies, crime never pays.
What keeps London Boulevard interesting throughout its breezy 103 minutes is a tight screenplay and creative visuals, both from William Monahan, who knows the genre well after contributing to the screenplays of Body of Lies and The Departed. While Monahan travels familiar paths, he brings enough surprise to the story — primarily in the layers of Knightly’s tragic actress — to maintain our interest. If, after the film ends, it feels like we have taken the same trip too many times, it may simply be that the gangster film is as overworked a genre as the movies can deliver. There aren’t too many new ways to tell the same old story.
Farrell delivers one of the better performances in an up-and-down career, never dull, on pitch in all sequences, capable of communicating a great deal with each glance. But there isn’t a lot different in this performance than what he has delivered in Miami Vice and In Bruges. Supporting performances from Ray Winstone, as the Don, and Ben Chaplin, as Mitchel’s underground friend Billy, offer welcome moments.
Chances are, London Boulevard will not be the last time the movies return to the underworld. And, as shown in the fresh treatment of the doomed heroine, the genre may have a few surprises left.
* Content: Medium. While we have seen this movie before, writer/director William Monahan introduces some new twists, especially in the character of the tragic film actress.
* Entertainment: Medium. Only limited by its familiarity, London Boulevard falls just short of fresh entertainment. But it does move quickly and keep our attention.
* Message: Low. Gangster movies rarely contain complex messages and, this time, the moral may be, “when you want to start a new life, don’t return to your hometown.”
* Relevance: Medium. Any chance to enjoy a film can be relevant even if this one — with its strong use of profanity — is not for the whole family.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Low. It’s not that there won’t be much to talk, chances are you had the same conversation after the last gangster movie you shared.
(London Boulevard is rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. The film runs 103 minutes.)
2-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
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