Plagued by a troubled past, London Fields is a new neo-noir thriller finally making its way to theaters. It is based on the novel of the same name by Martin Amis, following a terminally ill writer who finds his swan song in the story of a femme fatale who begins a love affair with three men despite knowing that one of them is going to murder her.
The film was supposed to debut at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, but was pulled from the lineup due to legal troubles. First the director sued the producers over creative control. Then the producers sued Amber Heard, accusing her of not fulfilling her contract. Now that this legal trouble has been settled, the movie is being released, although maybe it would have been better off staying in limbo.
The best word to describe this film is bizarre. At once, it is an absolute mess, a fun neo-noir romp, and an ambitious story about art, fame, and death. Somehow, despite its glaring flaws, the movie manages to be oddly alluring. It doesn’t really fall into the “so bad it’s funny” category, but it also isn’t frustratingly or unbearably bad. It is truly difficult to express in words the overall quality of the film because it is so all over the place.
The main mystery of the story is compelling, but predictable. From the beginning of the movie, it is obvious where it is going to go and what the ending is going to be. However, the film manages to make it even worse by making the ending feel unresolved. There isn’t enough explanation as to what led to the ending. It is all extremely convenient and requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief.
The romantic subplot is also quite frustrating. The basic structure of having three guys fall for one girl is obviously nothing new, so a movie has to make it compelling for it to work and stand out. It doesn’t do that. Largely due to lackluster character development, the romantic storyline feels completely inconsequential.
The protagonist just isn’t developed well enough. There are some hints of an interesting character every now and then, but he felt really shallow. His purpose was to serve as the audience’s perspective rather than a rounded character on his own, and that wasn’t a good decision. The other three lead characters are all very flat. They move the story along, but that’s it.
There are also some elements of the story that felt very random, their inclusion in the story not making any sense. For example, the film is set in a dystopian future. There are plenty of visual cues that make it easy to see the temporal setting. Yet this doesn’t ever play a big role in the story. So much of the movie is meant to be a throwback to noir that this counters the futuristic setting.
Additionally, there is a subplot about darts. Yes, competitive darts. One of the main characters is a professional darts player, and a significant scene in the film is set during a darts tournament. While it does provide for an intense and interesting scene, why darts? There doesn’t seem to be any symbolic purpose. It doesn’t really add anything to the story or the character. Furthermore, this storyline introduces some of the more inexplicable elements of the plot. Why is Keith’s rival in darts also a mob-boss like character from whom he borrows money? It just feels awfully convenient.
That being said, the movie’s visual style and execution is actually pretty solid. It’s a shame that these things weren’t utilized more effectively to complement the story. The cinematography and production design are both good, a combination of the old and the new. The editing is innovative at times, with some unique strategies being used to make the film more thrilling. The soundtrack is great. Also, despite the problematic material they were given, the actors give surprisingly decent turns. Billy Bob Thornton, Amber Heard, Jason Isaacs, and Johnny Depp all give enjoyable performances.
Overall, London Fields is a hot mess, but a very watchable one at that. This is one of those movies you have to see to believe, because it is unfathomable how it got to this point.
London Fields opens in theaters October 26.