Wednesday, November 9, 2011

William Monahan finds his B-movie metier with the excellent LONDON BOULEVARD

Now we discover what William Monahan can really serve up. Best-known as the award-winning screenwriter of the multi-Academy Award-winning movie The Departed (which could begin a very long list of undeserving "Oscar" winners), Mr. Monahan comes into his own with the (unfortunately very limited) release of his new film LONDON BOULEVARD, a very model of an intelligent, witty, stylish (while never showy) B-movie, a crime melodrama that gets virtually everything right. As the director, screenwriter (adapted from the novel by Ken Bruen) and a co-producer, to boot, the movie is Monahan's baby all the way, and a cracklingly good one it is.

The filmmaker, shown at right, is content to tell a good story well, and I wish more of his peers understood the importance of this. He also appreciates that this is a visual medium and so gives it its due -- without going overboard with the "style." Oh, the movie is stylish, all right -- consider the fine scene in which star Keira Knightley (below, playing a hugely popular-with-the-tabloids Brit movie star) visits a drug store and is either noticed by everyone or is simply bonkers paranoid, maybe both -- but it refuses to shout about its quiet but nonetheless full-blown accomplishments.

Telling the not unusual tale of the convict released from prison who resolves to go straight, the movie makes this situation seem remarkably fresh, thanks to the casting and performance of its leading man Colin Farrell, below, who finally has a "star" role that, were there any justice in moviedom, would catapult him into permanent box-office heat. Farrell uses his face and body remarkably well here, taking the time to create a character with whom we sympathize enormously as his problems pile up. He comes to his hero role by degrees, and we're with him every step.

In Ray Winstone (below), the movie also has a crackerjack villain, a fellow who's as frightening as he is crazy, an unnerving combination of which Winstone makes the most.

The supporting cast includes some of Britain's finest -- from Anna Friel (center, two photos below, as Farrell's substance-abusing sis) to Eddie Marsan (a goofily crooked cop), Ben Chaplin (the best friend nobody needs, shown at left in the penultimate photo) and especially David Thewlis (below, right), who plays with great relish Ms Knightley's major domo. Thewlis has some of the movie's wittiest lines, which he tosses off with utter aplomb.

It's in the scenes with Thewlis and others that feature Sanjeev Baskhar (below, right, as a hospital doctor who befriends Farrell's character and then become besotted with his sister) that Monahan really struts his stuff. These scenes further the plot and the characterizations but are also great fun. They're short, too; nothing here goes on too long (the movie runs 103 minutes, with each one present and accounted for).

Monahan also seems to understand intuitively when to suggest and when to go for broke. Considering all that happens, the movie is relatively free from blood-and-guts. We neither see nor hear much violence, but the quick sight of a hammer with blood and hair attached speaks volumes.

Tone and pacing are on the mark, too, so that the occasional coincidence appears relatively natural and real. The view we get of London paparazzi is nasty enough to make what happens to a pair of them seem more than just. And the photography by Chris Menges is everything we expect from this master cinematographer.

Make no mistake, London Boulevard is a B movie, a noirish crime thriller of the type we've seen countless times (and will see even more again, should we live that long) But because of its smart grasp of character, event, momentum and especially irony (the ending is brilliant and the irony of it anything but cheap), it stands heads and shoulders above all else of this type we've seen of late.

Released via IFC Films, the movie opens this Friday, November 11, in New York at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 on November 18. As is often the case these days, it has also been playing via VOD for the past month, as well. Click here to learn how to get it via your local cable/TV reception provider.

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