London Boulevard is a film that spends a really long time getting ready to go somewhere and then never really goes there. The plot is a winding, torturous mess that ends in a dead end. William Monahan, an Oscar winner who’s decided to try his hand at screenwriting, clearly laid the groundwork for what could be an interesting story and intriguing characters, and yet nothing is ever built on those foundations.
The story follows Mitchel (Colin Farrell), an ex-con looking to go straight after he gets out of prison. He takes on the job of protecting Charlotte (Keira Knightley), an actress driven into seclusion by the paparazzi and her dilettante husband. The two grow close and eventually fall in love, which raises the stakes for Mitch in his battle to leave his criminal life behind. At least, that’s what theoretically happens. Practically, Mitch supposedly wants to go straight while his gangster buddies only see the gangster in him, and yet he seems to spend the entire movie blundering around, living with his gangster friend and helping him with his gangster jobs despite his supposed moral repugnance towards such things. He and Charlotte barely have any screen time together, which rather throws a wrench in the whole “falling in love” idea. And, to top it off, the characters aren’t developed enough for anything to actually matter.
In fact, the characters of Mitchell and Charlotte are beautifully drawn sketches that the artist just didn’t color in. Both are, essentially, normal people who are made by prejudices, stereotypes, and the people around them into something they’re not. Mitchell is the ex-con who doesn’t want to be a criminal; he’s calm, restrained, and sometimes even philosophical. Charlotte is a world-famous movie star who doesn’t party, spends no time on the red carpet, and has no desire to be a glamorous diva. This conflict, however, between who these people are and what others see in them, is never developed. Charlotte comes off as whiny and annoying; her biggest problem is that people stare at her. One can’t help thinking that there are people who have actual problems. And as for Mitch, well, it’d be nice if he had a little initiative, or some idea of what he wanted, from time to time.
In one of the few scenes in which Charlotte does show up, she proffers a rather ironic statement: “either you’re getting your kit off, opening up the trousers or brains of an idiot in a piece of shit, or you’re shooting MOS in Genua with some Italian pervert..” Unfortunately, her own character isn’t the exception to her own criticism; it’s so undeveloped that it does indeed seem that she’s only there for Mitchell’s theoretical development as a character. That’s a shame, because both leads are talented actors. Knightley is quite at home in her role as the frail, unhappy Charlotte and the cold composure of Farrell’s character is bewitching.
In the end, the entire film is missing something that can only be called “sexiness.” This is true of the relationship between the leads, but also of the story in general. The tale of these two “star crossed lovers,” as they’re marketed, is bland and unmoving. Any sort of sensuality, closeness, attraction, is glossed over; when they wake up in bed together in the morning, the viewer has the impression that they’re sleeping next to each other by accident. The pleasure that comes from watching two on-screen people that you want to be looking at, that you can’t help staring at when they’re together, is absent. The characters, in general, lack a certain charisma that makes one keep watching. And so, the “tragic,” but rather tragically predictable ending of the ex-con who tries to become good but ultimately can’t escape his past life, leaves one in the same state emotional state of disinterest as if one hadn’t watched a film.