Thanks partly to the Academy Awards – where all the big distributors release all their big films prior to the big event – and partly thanks to the Easter/May Day holidays – where all the kids’ films and multiplex fodder hit the screens – quality movies are a bit thin on the ground. So April is a good month to blow the dust off the DVD player.
One to check out is London Boulevard, a gritty crime thriller based on the novel by Ken Bruen and directed and scripted by William Monahan: the man who adapted Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed from the Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs and wrote Kingdom Of Heaven for Ridley Scott.
Brimming with good performances, it tells the story of London villain Mitch (a nonchalantly menacing Colin Farrell) who after a stretch in jail for assault decides to go straight. He falls in with reclusive superstar actress Charlotte (played by the increasingly capable Keira Knightley) after landing a job as her handyman.
Both are trying to escape: Charlotte is dogged at every turn by revolting and abusive paparazzi while Mitch, being a useful soldier, won’t be allowed to return to civvy street by his loathsome, untrustworthy and inept criminal mate Billy (a ridiculously good performance by Ben Chaplin).
Mob boss Gant (another superb turn by Ray Winstone) is the most loathsome piece of work you could ever hope to meet.
'Winstone is so precise in his performance that he left me speechless'
For my money, it’s bang-on, but I’d given it a miss at the cinema because I was put off by the flurry of lukewarm reviews that greeted its theatrical release.
I’ve since lost faith in a lot of those scribes, but in truth, how could your average film journalist understand the world that first-time director Monahan depicts so well? They’ve never been in it – they’ve never even seen it!
One reviewer wrote, “Winstone has been cast as the sinister gangster-in-chief, in very much the same spirit that Wills 'n' Kate chose Westminster Abbey as their wedding venue”.
To me, Winstone is so precise in his performance that he left me speechless. Before I became a writer, I ran nightclubs in London’s Soho and that introduced me to every psycho gangster in town. They were savagely unpredictable: one wrong word and they could turn on you. The trouble was, you never know what that ‘word’ might be: a joke, a tiny lack of etiquette or even a compliment. And Winstone delivers all that and more.
I should really have trusted my own judgement: Ridley Scott told me Monahan is one of the best screenwriters he’d ever worked with, while Ray Winstone confided: “I worked with Bill [Monahan] on The Departed and he’s proper.
“It’s a great fucking script, a good part for me and I was surrounded by great actors.”
The script is indeed superb: when asked what he’s done as an actor, David Thewlis (as Charlotte’s louche ex-actor chum) replies: ”I was on children’s TV, then I was on Methadone and then I was on a producer.”
To my mind all the ingredients are great: cast, script, Chris Menges cinematography is beyond reproach and Monahan’s direction is careful, restrained and effective. You just have to see it.