“London Boulevard,” Gangster Ethics, and the Dark Heart of Sin
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[a] should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20
You probably shouldn’t watch London Boulevard, which stars Colin Farrell (who really CAN act; see: In Bruges) and Keira Knightley. It was also written and directed by a writer and director (William Monaghan) who was cool enough to have written and directed The Departed. The fact that it has a super cool Brit-pop soundtrack (Yardbirds, Stones and some Bob Dylan who is cool enough to have been made honorarily British at some point in his life), is relentlessly artful without being fey and annoying, and has the only satisfying ending that it possibly COULD have are additional reasons why you shouldn’t watch it.
Actually, it’s great.
Here are the disclaimerish reasons why you shouldn’t watch it, and then two more reasons why I found it super interesting:
Disclaimerish: It squeezes about 1,200 f-bombs into 103 minutes, people do drugs, other people get shot. There’s the obligatory 15-second strip-club scene which it seems all modern gangster-type movies have. Now you know. So don’t watch it and then say, “I was surprised by all the profanity and violence.”
Now, onto the real content.
The writer/director probably meant this film for evil, but I think God meant it for good. Let me explain. The Colin Farrell character just got out of prison and is trying to be a Good Guy. Farrell is absolutely genius at playing the “conflicted bad guy who just can’t quite seem to stop being bad even though he really wants to be good” (see: Bruges, In). Still, Farrell gets roped into his old life because of some commitments he’s made to his boss, who is a gangster and who, even though he’s British, reminds me a lot of Gene Hackman. Farrell inevitably falls in love with Knightley, who’s a reclusive famous actress (in the film). Of course, Farrell is pursued by his gangster boss, who sees great potential in him and wants him to take on more criminal responsibility, to which the Farrell character replies, “See, what you have to understand is that if I were a gangster – Rob – you would be the first to die. I wouldn’t work for you. I would kill you and take everything you’ve got – if I were a gangster. That’s why you don’t want me to be a gangster. Nobody wants me to be a gangster. ‘Cause I couldn’t stop if I started. Do you get it?”
Hence, the Gangster Ethic. Most Gangster Ethic movies show how cool this ethic is, and how much it works if you are just steely, motivated, poised, and ruthless enough to pull it off (see: Corleone, Michael). This film does the opposite. It shows the Gangster Ethic for what it really is, which is full of dissatisfaction, paranoia, crippling guilt, and pain – which is why the Farrell character wants out.
In short, it shows the Dark Heart of Sin for what it actually is, rather than the way Hollywood usually portrays it, which is consequence-free and awesome. This is a film full of people getting what they deserve, and instead of making you feel great (as an audience), it makes you feel sad and empty.
In a strange way, this film made me glad that I know Christ, and that I don’t have to live by the Gangster Code in my life or my career…and make no mistake, we all (especially men) live by it in one way or another at some point or another. We all want to be God. We will all fail at being God. The Bible guarantees this, and even if you don’t believe in the Bible, all one has to do is open one’s eyes in the world for a few minutes to see how horribly this goes most of the time.
This film did no business. It barely got distro in America, doing a paltry $3,400 gross on opening weekend – scarcely enough to fund Colin Farrell’s hair product. It came and went because on paper it’s just another depressing art-house picture where everyone dies (Spoiler alert, I guess, but you knew that anyway didn’t you?).
But at the end of the day, it made me glad to know the Lord.