Boulevard (Blu-ray Review)

Boulevard will end up being known as the last dramatic movie that Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society) filmed before he passed away. Really, that is too bad because while not every Robin Williams film is a highly-lauded classic, it is undeniable that he was a talented actor with an impressive range and a flair for providing a pleasantly over-the-top performance and Boulevard squanders that potential. Instead, this film uses a powerful and dynamic actor to tell a boring story with boring scenery and mostly boring performances that says nothing new or interesting about its topic. If you are looking for a nice film to round out the memory of Robin Williams, Boulevard is the wrong road to travel.

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Boulevard introduces the viewer to Nolan Mack, played by Robin Williams, a 60-year old loan officer at a bank, who has been married for a long time to his semi-retired wife, has one very close friend who he gets lunch with every Tuesday, has a father in hospice, and is a closeted homosexual on the verge of coming to terms with this hidden part of his identity. The story follows Nolan at a crossroads in his life. His boss at the bank presents him with an opportunity for a big promotion, while at the same time, the imminent death of his father, a figure who is implied to have had a good deal of control over Nolan’s life decisions, is bringing his true feelings to light and he is compelled to act on them. This leads to one night where Nolan decides to make a quick U-turn and pull his car over in front of a high-traffic prostitution area of his small city. There, he meets and picks up Leo, played by Roberto Aguire, a 20-something male prostitute, and takes him to a cheap motel where they spend some time talking before Nolan drops Leo back off and pays him a hefty sum.

What stems from that first encounter is the enriching of Nolan’s curiosity and his exploration of this heretofore hidden part of himself at the expense of his professional life, social life, and home life. This eventually leads to the normally meek and accommodating Nolan having to navigate a series of confrontations with his boss, his friend Winston, played by Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul,”Mr. Show”), Leo’s pimp, Leo, his father, and his wife, played by Kathy Baker (Saving Mr. Banks), while he determines what it really means to live.

Boulevard is full of uninteresting characters doing uninteresting things. The only real moment of genuine intrigue comes 80 minutes into this 88-minute long film, where Nolan’s wife delivers a brilliant and intense monologue. The film plods along, predictably and dully setting up minor conflicts in the way of a character who is just portrayed as too inept to be able to handle them. Nolan bumbles his way through his life, trying not to get in anyone’s way and when he finally starts doing something he likes, he bumbles through that as well. It is understandable that a person with Nolan’s age and dependable demeanor life would be hesitant to make rash decisions and act uncomfortable in unseemly positions, but the issue here is that Nolan is presented as an intelligent and compassionate guy. He is just portrayed as weak and bumbling in order for the confrontations to seem more insurmountable. Nolan isn’t stricken with terrible social anxiety; he has just been hiding a secret for a long time. And instead of giving this character the opportunity to healthily use the avenues afforded to him by his comfortable middle-class existence, the film just has him use monetary exchanges with Leo as a barrier to his growth.

Robin Williams does fine as Nolan. He is sweet and hesitant and nervous. But, this didn’t need to be Robin Williams. He doesn’t bring anything particularly intriguing to the role. This isn’t what anyone would consider to be “a Robin Williams movie.” Kathy Baker is great as Nolan’s wife, Joy. Her character is correctly understanding and frustrated. And she gets that really good monologue at the end. It is just too bad she isn’t in the film more. Roberto Aguire as Leo is pretty boring. Leo is used to being abused and exploited, so his reactions to Nolan’s not-so-sexualized advances play well, but his role is not there for depth. Leo is really just a prop for Nolan to use on his way to self-discovery. Bob Odenkirk is pretty entertaining as Nolan’s best friend Winston, however, his character tries to serve as this connection to Nolan’s past and a way to center him in reality and Winston spends too much time spouting useless dialogue about himself or exposition about Nolan instead of being a realistic best friend.

Boulevard doesn’t bring anything special to the screen in terms of production either. The electronic synthesizer score is somewhat out of place and too attention-hungry. The cinematography is flat and uninspired. There is this weird distracting sense that the movie actually takes place about ten years ago because Nolan’s house has multiple undersized CRT televisions, he uses a Blackberry phone, Leo gives him a VHS as a gift and he is able to play it in more than one room in his house. Now, while those little details could be seen to be accurate, since Nolan and his wife are around 60 and there would be no reason for them to rush out and purchase brand new electronics, what these details do for the viewer is combine with the somewhat older social representation of homosexuality to make this film seem like it is lost in time. It just doesn’t feel modern. And despite what it tries to do, it doesn’t succeed in saying anything new or interesting about a really prevalent modern issue.

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Encoding: MPEG-4  AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: Though it isn’t very flashy, everything comes through with clarity and in good detail. Robin Williams emotes through his facial expressions frequently in the film and without good clarity, these nuances could be lost.

Depth: This film is shot pretty flatly. Since there isn’t much of interest going on with the characters, it is easy to pick up on the strange out-of-time technology in the backgrounds of some shots, so while there isn’t much depth, there is good foreground/background transition.

Black Levels: A good portion of this film takes place at night on the street or in dimly lit hotel rooms. Details are still present in the dark and the black levels are fine.

Color Reproduction: This is not some colorful wonderland. The color choices are a bit dull and nighttime scenes are shot with a lot of streetlamp lighting, which can futz with the way the viewer’s eyes might perceive color, but other than that everything looks fine and realistic.

Flesh Tones: Natural looking flesh tones. Not a lot of variety in flesh tones, but that is not a problem of the Blu-ray production

Noise/Artifacts: No issues with noise or artifacts. Clean.

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Audio Format(s): Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: The sound in this film is almost exclusively dialogue, with some infrequent sounds in a bank or a restaurant. There isn’t a whole lot of dynamism going around, but the sound quality is fine. The soundtrack is out of place, but it comes in clear.

Low Frequency Extension: Very little use of the LFE channel. Maybe when a door closes or during a short altercation between two characters. Sounds are realistically produced, there just aren’t many of them.

Surround Sound Presentation: Again, not a lot going on here. A few outdoor scenes give the feeling of being there, but since the film is heavy on dialogue, the center channel will be doing all of the work here.

Dialogue Reproduction: Clear and precise. Even through the hesitant, nervous mumbles of Nolan, the dialogue comes in nice and fine.

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There are no extras on this Blu-ray release.

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Despite a couple of decent moments in the performances, Boulevard is boring, predictable, and perhaps slightly too cautious for its content. It could have been very good as a 25-minute short film and it definitely doesn’t get any help by muting Robin Williams down. I actually had more fun imagining that the main character’s hidden secret had plagued his mind so much that he was imagining Leo and all his encounters with him, leading to him seeking treatment to more healthily explore his identity issues in the end. Alas, this is not that film. Do yourself a favor and pass on this Blu-ray so you can have time to re-watch Hook, Death to Smoochy, or The Fisher King and remember Robin Williams for his greatness.

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I like to be challenged to think about things, so I studied Philosophy in college. Now I am paying for it.

3 Responses to “Boulevard (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Doug

    I wrote Boulevard and found your review interesting. It’s not for everyone, I agree, but you seem unusually opposed to it.

  2. Bron Anderson

    Doug, I guess I didn’t focus my review much on the writing. This is probably because the directorial choices (something as minor as the oddly disorienting fades to black) and the mise-en-scène were sticking out to me. With those two elements not working for me, some of the impact of the tender or confrontational scenes had a tendency to get a bit lost. Thank you for the comment.

  3. Doug

    Thank you for getting back. Appreciate it.