“I recommend the lemon sole – it’s blinding!” Ray Winstone tells fellow gangster Colin Farrell in London Boulevard.
If one could only say the same about William Monahan’s club-footed adap of Ken Bruen’s crime novel, a befuddling muddle that sees a starry cast up to their necks in reheated clichés.
Farrell is Mitchel, a Cockney ex-con determined to go straight after three years inside for GBH. (“I was in an altercation that got out of hand!” he shrugs.)
A chance meeting lands him a job as a bodyguard to a fragile actress (Knightley) who, à la Norma Desmond, has holed herself up in her Holland Park mansion.
No sooner has Col fallen for his new boss than his old one (guess who!) turns up to insist he resume his former role as loan shark.
Can this man with a past live long enough to forge a new future?
Though Sunset Boulevard is clearly the model here, there is also a touch of Mona Lisa to Monahan’s drama that – together with a well-chosen soundtrack of ’60s hits – initially promises much.
Around the midway point, alas, Boulevard goes abruptly off the rails, a coasting Winstone and some confusingly random violence inflicted on poorly established supporting characters sending it spiralling into Guy Ritchie Mockney-crim territory with suicidal abandon.
It’s a shame considering the wealth of talent at Monahan’s disposal.
David Thewlis is particularly fine as Knightley’s dessicated housekeeper. (“I was on a children’s TV show, then methadone!” his chain-smoking eccentric reveals.) Ben Chaplin is also a hoot as the former friend of Mitchel’s who could not be more untrustworthy if he tried.
But it would help if Keira’s hermitic starlet rang remotely true, or if she and Colin were capable of generating a single volt of sexual chemistry.
It is also hard not to titter when Farrell starts quoting Rilke, shortly before booting a pair of insolent paparazzos down a flight of stairs.
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The authenticity Monahan gave The Departed is AWOL from a directorial debut that ends, pretentiously, with the film burning in the projector. You’ll wish it had happened halfway through.