A Dark Twist on an Old Story? Not Even Close

Okay, I know how I started writing about a 2010 movie based on a 2001 novel but I am not sure why I am posting an entry in my blog about them.

I guess it all started when I watched the Brit TV series based on the Jack Taylor novels by Irish writer Ken Bruen (an appreciation of Mr. Bruen’s unique – to me – prose style appears elsewhere in this blog.)

London - book

I noticed a second hand copy of London Boulevard at a book sale and since I had become an aficionado of Mr. Bruen’s works I picked it up. Okay, it wasn’t a Jack Taylor novel but the protagonist, a wary, volatile ex-con named Mitchell, his run-ins with former criminal associates, his relationship with mentally unstable sister, Briony, his reluctant affair with the aging but still alluring  reclusive actress Lillian Palmer and her enigmatic butler, Jordan. held my attention.

Then I became aware of a movie adapted from the novel.  Since it was written by William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who adapted the Asian box office hit Infernal Affairs for the Martin Scorsese-directed North American cinematic success The Departed (one of my favorite films) I had high hopes when the acclaimed screenwriter chose London Boulevard as his directorial debut. 

London - movie

Imagine my surprise when I looked closer at the back of the DVD dust cover and saw that Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley had been cast in leading roles. While reading the novel I kept picturing Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren or Charlotte Rampling in the roles. (On the other hand, the casting of Anna Friel as Briony and Ray Winstone as Mitchell’s criminal nemesis, Gant, was spot-on.)

I understand the need to attract “name” stars to secure investors. However, the casting – and rewriting – completely destroys Mr. Bruen’s original intent: to write a British version of Sunset Boulevard, or, as it says on the front cover of the novel, “a dark twist on a classic story.” Imagine a version geared to a youthful demographic directed by Zack Snyder and starring, say, Scarlett Johansson as Ms. Palmer (renamed “Lily”) and one of the Hemsworth boys as Mitchell (MC Mitch?)  

Mr. Monahan’s second attempt at directing, the dismal Mojave. didn’t fare much better (24% Audience Rating). Perhaps Peter Howell of Toronto’s Globe & Mail (quoted on RT) says it best:  “Writer/director William Monahan won an Oscar for penning The Departed and he obviously needs the discipline Martin Scorsese brought to that picture.”

London - sign

Sexy? Maybe. Beastly? Definitely

The jury may still be out on whether Sir Ben Kingsley is sexy.

Sir Ben Kingsley (with Penelope Cruz) in Elegy
Sir Ben Kingsley (with Penelope Cruz) in Elegy

But the character he plays in the 2000 British crime thriller Sexy Beast (see poster below) is certainly guilty of beastly behavior.

Sexy Beast (now on Netflix)
Sexy Beast (now on Netflix)

Don Logan is an implacable, remorseless and malevolent force of nature. And that is the way Sir Ben plays him.  The result is such a convincing piece of cinematic villainy that Mr. Kingsley won an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category (as well as numerous other nominations.)

Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast
Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast

The nominal star of the film is British tough guy Ray Winstone, playing a retired safecracker named Gary “Gal” Dove.  Gal has been living the good life in Spain with his wife, Deedee, played by Amanda Redman (you’ll recognize her immediately if you’ve seen BBC-TV’s New Tricks) until Logan appears on the scene, determined to lure him back to London for “one last big job.” (Ian McShane plays a ruthless London crimelord.)

With its wire taut suspense, uniformly gripping performances and an ingeniously edited underwater robbery sequence, it’s hard to believe this lean and mean Brit noir marks the feature film debuts of director Jonathan Glazer and screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto.

Director Jonathan Glazer and Ray Winstone on the set of Sexy Beast
Director Jonathan Glazer and Ray Winstone on the set of Sexy Beast