When he wants to be, Colin Farrell is the most accomplished male film star of his generation. But one of the interesting facts about his career is that he clearly hasn’t always wanted to be.
As well as an A-list actor he’s also been, at various times, a playboy and party animal, and at all times a proud dad of two sons.
In recent years he starred in some big budget turkeys, of which director Oliver Stone’s Alexander and Michael Mann’s Miami Vice are probably the most infamous examples. Instead of copper fastening his stardom, those two big budget duds almost sunk it completely, but then Farrell emerged victorious in small budget winners like In Bruges and Cassandra’s Dream.
Along the way he’s made it pretty clear that he hasn’t always enjoyed life in the public eye or the trappings of celebrity. In fact, all the scrutiny has led him into to some epic benders it looked like he might never recover from, but somehow he always has.
For a man who usually makes his living playing a tough guy, in person he’s quite anxious and thoughtful, and he still has that Irish reflex of asking how you are and looking fascinated by your answer.
Being Irish has probably helped him keep his perspective on his career -- after all he started out in the lowly Irish-themed BBC soap Ballykissangel, and there’s plenty in Dublin willing to remind him of the fact to keep him grounded.
This week Farrell can be seen giving the performance of his career in London Boulevard (opening Friday), the shockingly intense crime thriller written and directed by The Departed Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner William Monahan. It’s a stylish gangster falls for a young movie star tale that somehow manages to explode all the clichés of the genre.
Looking like a handsome mash up of Cary Grant and Vinny Jones, Farrell has never looked better. In fact he lights up the film in every scene he appears in, bringing a raw intensity and total authenticity to his character.
“I think that’s a very good way to put it,” Monahan tells the Irish Voice. “He is a mash-up of Cary Grant and Vinnie Jones, he’s very smooth in it, very passionate and very tough. As I look at it now I think he’s got the presence of any of the best leading men on the screen. I think he’s a superlative actor and a genuine film star.”
The plot of London Boulevard can be summed up in few sentences. A gangster (Farrell) is released from Pentonville prison determined to clean up his act, and he ends up being approached to work as a bodyguard for a young movie star -- then they fall in love.
But this being a script by Monahan, nothing is as easy as it seems and a happy ending is by no means guaranteed. For one thing, Farrell’s character never actually takes the job of bodyguard.
“A lot of the ads and reviews have him as a gangster who goes to work for an actress who is a class above,” says Monahan.
“In truth Colin’s character in the film is middle class, complicated and he isn’t really a gangster and he never goes to work for her. He tells her explicitly in the middle of the film that he hasn’t taken the job. Yet every time I open the newspaper I see it described as a film about a gangster who goes to work for an actress.”
It’s a shame that most reviewers are this lazy, because they do this complex and genuinely captivating thriller a disservice.
All the men (and now that I think about it, the women too) in London Boulevard are conniving or gutless or damaged or deadly – which is, after all, largely true in life, with those wonderful exceptions that keep us turning corners.
Another theme that gets explored is how toxic fame can be.
“Fame isn’t something people seek anymore unless you’re Kim Kardashian,” says Monahan. “Fame is a kind of torture and a crucifixion now. I don’t think many people seek it any more because it can be a very deadly thing.
“The paparazzi in London are particularly brutal to young actresses (and we see Keira Knightley being hounded relentlessly by the press in the film). What they do is kind of a sexual assault.