Going Straight is never as simple as it seems.
You can guarantee if there’s one area of the current employment sector which continually flouts the rules of a recession, it’s the underworld London East End gangster. William Monahan’s (screenplays for ‘The Departed’ and ‘Body of Lies’) directorial debut is an adaptation of Ken Bruen’s 2001 novel ‘London Boulevard’ about a criminal who after being released from prison, attempts to go ‘straight,’ but despite his attempts, he can never truly escape his violent past. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but capable direction, and solid performances from a primarily solid British and Irish cast, create a competent directorial debut for Monahan.
Mitchell (Colin Farrell) has just been released from Pentonville after a three year sentence for assault, when he exits the prison he is picked up by long-time partner in crime, and local enforcer, Billy (Ben Chaplin), who takes Mitchell to a party in his honour. Every East End drug dealing gangster is there to shake the хэнд of one of the most feared men in London, but all Mitchell wants is to get a job, and avoid being restricted to a sixteen by eight cell again. He manages to convince a beautiful, reclusive actress (Keira Knightly) and her pot-smoking-hippy-esquire-father-figure Jordan (David Thewlis) to hire him as a handyman around their paparazzi infested estate. But when the leading figure in the London underworld, Mr Gant (Ray Winstone) comes looking to place Mitchell high up in his crime organization, he must find a way to refuse the advances of such a dangerous man, while also protecting those closest to him.
For the first ten-to-fifteen minutes of the film, Colin Farrell’s forced middle-class cockney accent takes centre stage, but once he settles into the role, his performance takes limelight as a sociopathic criminal with somewhat of a heart. His brash use of violence, and utter respect and protection of friends, family and confidants, provides a conflict within Mitchell that he constantly battles throughout the film. The only thing he knows what to do is enforce, and if he was a true gangster he would «kill everyone and take everything they had,» but at the same time, the last thing he wants in his life is to return to that desolate hole known as prison. Aside from Farrell, both David Thewlis and Ben Chaplin give great performances as the hippy, wannabe actor and scared, low-level gangster respectively. While Anne Friel also plays the thieving, stubborn, childish sister of Mitchell’s very well. Yet while Ray Winstone never puts a foot wrong, his role as the Underworld Godfather has become rather predictable and uninteresting, especially since every other word out of his Landan mouth is either f**k or c**t (or a combination of both). Monahan really missed a trick, by failing to provide Winstone’s character with any further depth.
Also beside the main story as Mitchell battles his growing love for the reclusive actress and the life of a straight man alongside that of his violent past, and potential gangster future, is the sub-plot of Mitchell’s old homeless friend Joe (Alan Williams) who is killed ruthlessly by a couple of youths and Mitchell’s subsequent attempts to find out who is responsible. While it is an adequate underlying story to accompany the main narrative, neither Monahan’s direction nor his screenplay seem to follow it to any decisive conclusion. It seems if anything, if this sub-plot is simply included to allow the subversion of the ending and provide a twist or surprise ending, which the film itself certainly does not need. ‘London Boulevard’ is a proficient first effort for Monahan, and while the film contains flaws, which you expect from a first-time director plying his trade, it is also an engaging gangster drama which is smartly written, and incredibly well-acted by many of the great British and Irish actors at the moment.