A man of few friends and fewer words, handy with his fists and a weapon but kind to tramps, Mitchell (Colin Farrell) walks out of Pentonville after serving a short stretch for GBH and soon his old world starts beckoning him. Livewire pal Billy (an awkward, miscast Ben Chaplin) ropes Mitchell into collecting debts, while smart-suited, quietly psychotic kingpin Gant (Ray Winstone, of course) plans even bigger things for him.
Mitchell, meanwhile, wants out of the criminal life, not least because he’s been reading the poet Rilke in jail, and accepts a job offer to look after Charlotte (Keira Knightley), a hounded, lonely actress whose picture appears on billboards across town and whose feckless husband has disappeared to Spain. Charlotte’s only company is a thespian-cum-recovering junkie (David Thewlis, channelling Withnail), who acts as her gatekeeper, and the paparazzi who hover outside her Holland Park home day and night.
Monahan draws on this big-name cast and employs superior talent behind the camera such as cinematographer Chris Menges (‘The Reader’, ‘Notes on a Scandal’) – but still manages to serve up a tired, lifeless film which fails to realise either the style or sexiness it craves and which lacks any real sense of energy or momentum in its plotting. Although the film is contemporary, Monahan aims for a 1960s vibe, with vague nods to ‘Performance’ in its crim-boho crossover, period songs on the soundtrack, including Bob Dylan and The Yardbirds, and a scene in which Farrell, in shirt and tie, drives an open-top classic car across Waterloo Bridge.
Yet such stylings feel like add-ons to a by-numbers, staccato story. Monahan wheels out every Brit-gangster cliché in the book – Winstone as a secretly gay, bookish hard man with a reserve of childhood trauma; Eddie Marsan as a cop stuck in the 1970s; Farrell as a criminal who can’t escape his past; and Chaplin as the hothead who’s got it coming. The film’s weakest element is the romance between Mitchell and Charlotte, which emerges from nowhere and is one of the dampest screen liasons in a long while. It doesn’t help that Farrell is handicapped not only with a character who doesn’t do emotions, but with his obvious discomfort at trying – and failing – to pull off a South London accent. Knightley, in turn, doesn’t have much to do but look harried, cross her arms a lot and, as expected, pout.
Only the most forgiving fans of London crime movies will find much to enjoy beyond Menges’s nicely moody shots of London and a few amusing side players, and even Knightley’s loyal fans might tire after a few scenes of her faux-slobbish act as a celebrity in hiding. Husband-and-wife actors Thewlis and Anna Friel are respectively wasted (in both senses) as Charlotte’s sole confidante and Mitchell’s wayward sister, but each must have had a word in the other’s ear as they play their roles for laughs and lighten their scenes by plumping for caricature.
You start off strolling lazily down ‘London Boulevard’, but after 104 minutes, you’re on your hands and knees begging for a passing cab to take you anywhere but this.