London Fields feels like a misfire from the moment Billy Bob Thornton’s voiceover commences; hearing Thornton recite Martin Amis’ prose creates a disconnect that is consistently maintained by the film’s mix of literary pretension and the stock characters and clichés of the Mockney crime drama. Amis’ work has never had a good time of it when it comes to filmed adaptations (Dead Babies, Money, The Rachel Papers), and London Fields continues his abysmal record in this regard.

Novelist Samson Young (Thornton) arrives in London explaining in voiceover that things in the UK are precarious. The origin of the danger isn’t explained, but we’re told that nuclear weapons are pointed at the UK (aren’t they always?) and montages of news footage highlighting modern conflict and calamity indicate that whatever the problem is, it’s all part and parcel of our unsettled times.

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Young is doing a flat swap with much more successful British novelist Mark Asprey (Jason Issacs). Young barely has time to take in and comment on how much more impressive Asprey’s place is than his own dump of an apartment in NYC when greasy cab driver Keith Talent (Jim Sturgess) whisks him off to a seedy pub for a pint. Into the pub walks beautiful clairvoyant Nicola Six (Amber Heard), first glimpsed in an enigmatic prelude that appears to indicate that a sticky end awaits her.

Young, Talent and Guy Clinch (Theo James), a slumming aristocrat, are all immediately besotted with Nicola, who soon thereafter reveals to Young that she has foreseen that one of the three men is destined to murder her; Nicola becomes a psychic sleuth, toying with the affections and libidos of the three as she moves inexorably closer to her own end.

It’s unlikely Amis’ fans will find this hodgepodge of pretension and overacting a satisfying screen translation of the novel; for the rest of us who are fond of a cracking London crime drama with or without a twist, this isn’t much cop (or villain) either. Sturgess gurns, roars and stumbles around as if he’s performing his acting MA thesis on the collected works of Guy Ritchie, and while Johnny Depp’s appearance as Talent’s loan shark and darts playing nemesis Chick Purchase is mercifully brief, between them they grimace and thrash about while firing off such a barrage of cock-er-ney bon mots that the goodwill of even the most diehard Amis or Depp fan will be exhausted long before the close of proceedings.

London Fields

Lovely to look at as she undeniably is, Amber Heard’s limited skills and presence don’t make her an immediate choice to cast as an intoxicatingly beguiling femme fatale who ensnares every man who crosses her path (in this case, an intellectual, a toff, and the widest of wide boys). The premise largely succeeds on whether or not one can accept that the woman at the centre of the story possesses an almost supernatural attractiveness, but Ms Heard is no Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren, and doesn’t have the sort of goddess/siren quality that the role calls for.

The film is now embroiled in litigation and was pulled from TIFF before its red carpet premiere after the director sued the producers over the edit they had submitted to the festival; it’s rather unlikely however that any sort of editing will reduce the ham or transform Ms Heard into an erotic figure of sublime seductiveness, and thus redeem London Fields from the oblivion it’s headed for.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
TIFF 2015 London Fields review
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I've worked in entertainment product development and sales & marketing in the U.S., UK and my native Canada for over 20 years, and have been a part of many changes during that time (I've overseen home entertainment releases on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray). I've also written and commentated about film and music for many outlets over the years. The first film I saw in the cinema was Mary Poppins, some time in the mid-60s: I was hooked. My love of the moving image remains as strong as ever.