Farrell is unusually and adeptly understated as Mitchell, doing a credible Cockney accent as well, returning to the mean streets of London after a stretch behind bars. He is done with being a gangster and is quick to tell his old partner-in-crime (a greasy Ben Chaplin) who doesn't take it too seriously. Still, it all seems cushy at first, especially when Mitchell lands a job in Holland Park protecting vulnerable young movie star Charlotte from marauding paparazzi. Keira Knightley is suitably fragile in the role; the hollowness she feels seeming to echo her own 'real' life of celebrity.
It's also a one-note performance (marked by annoying self-pity), but that isn't Knightley's fault. She gets surprisingly little screen-time given the profound effect she has on Mitchell's life (and the decisions he makes). Ironically, in one scene she describes how women in film are usually treated as an appendage, existing only to enhance our understanding of the leading man. Monahan certainly backs her case. What makes it worse is that there is no palpable connection between Knightley and Farrell. Monahan, perhaps, could have better illustrated their kinship (bonded as outsiders in a dog-eat-dog world), but the chemistry would still be lacking.
The film falls down on this weak romance because there is nothing to counter the pull of Ray Winstone who's tugging at the other end of Mitchell's (metaphorical) rope. He virtually froths at the mouth playing gay mob boss Gant, relentless in his efforts to bring Mitchell back into the fold. But at times, the macho posturing verges on self-parody. This is a film littered with clichés from its basic premise to the supporting players, which include Anna Friel as Mitchell's silly tart of a little sister. Such familiarity doesn't really matter, because it's clear that Monahan's intention is to celebrate film noir tradition, but this is a case of style over substance.
Visually, it moves from daylight to darkness (Charlotte keeps the curtains drawn), to mirror the inner landscape of our anti-hero. The moral choices Mitchell is faced with - balancing loyalty to his loved ones against his own will to change - give the film its shape, but Monahan doesn't measure the pace very well. It's not that there isn't enough gunplay or any car chases, but that Monahan spends too much time on the obvious frictions between the ex-con and his ex-boss without revealing enough about why Gant is so determined to keep Mitchell close (the hint that he is gay only smacks of homophobia). The growing intimacy between Mitchell and Charlotte feels similarly forced. Essentially, London Boulevard is a long but not very winding road.
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