While William Monahan's London Boulevard has a certain sadistic familiarity, it also has the kind of edge that too few movies allow themselves.
The directorial debut for Monahan, who won an Oscar for his script for The Departed, London Boulevard is lean, mean and to the point. While there aren't many surprises, the archetypical script -- the criminal trying to start fresh who gets dragged back into the old life -- is handled with skill and a blend of wit and suspense.
The criminal in question is Mitchell (Colin Farrell), just out after serving a term for what the Brits refer to as "grievous bodily harm," a more evocative term than, say, assault with a deadly weapon. He's met at the prison gate by his weasely old chum Billy (Ben Chaplin), who sets him up in what used to be a doctor's townhouse (the physician in question, who eventually turns up, was blackmailed into writing phony prescriptions to settle some debts).
But Mitchell wants nothing to do with Billy's strong-arm business. And he definitely doesn't want to get involved with Gant (Ray Winstone), Billy's dapper and vicious boss. But Gant casually shoots someone in front of Mitchell, then pronounces Mitchell an accessory who is now at Gant's beck and call.
Mitchell, however, is trying to go straight. He lands a gig doing security for a movie star named Charlotte (Keira Knightley), pulled into the job by her consort and pal, Jordan (David Thewlis). His job mostly involves keeping the paparazzi away from Charlotte, who has ditched her husband and quit acting because her last director -- an Italian -- raped her.
Yes, Charlotte and Mitchell bond. Yes, Mitchell's efforts to resist Gant turn gruesome, with Gant casually destroying everyone who is close to Mitchell until Mitchell unleashes the gangster within. You can see where this is headed.
Still, Monahan keeps things briskly paced and draws a performance that is part pained vulnerability, part chilly predator, out of the otherwise suave and competent Farrell. Chaplin is oily as the unreliable pal, while Thewlis has a delightfully dry affect as the easily underestimated former actor who is willing to do what needs to be done.
London Boulevard is yet another movie with major names being given the heave-ho by the movie company: straight to VOD even before it hits a few theaters. Make a note of this title; you won't be sorry you tracked it down.
Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine