Starring Robin Williams in his remarkable final on-screen performance, BOULEVARD follows married but closeted 60 year-old bank employee Nolan (Williams) whose spontaneous turn down an unknown street upends his monotonous life and crumbling marriage. After forming an uncommon friendship with a young, charismatic hustler, Nolan finds himself on a journey of self-discovery and must confront the secrets he has kept hidden from his wife (Kathy Baker of SAVING MR. BANKS) and himself. Nolan’s dramatic decision to rethink his own identity holds with it the promise of happiness and salvation for both he and his wife in this touching and inspiring film. From acclaimed director Dito Montiel (A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS, THE SON OF NO ONE), and written by Douglas Soesbe, BOULEVARD shines with an ensemble cast that includes Bob Odenkirk (TV's BETTER CALL SAUL) and Roberto Aguire (STRUCK BY LIGHTNING) in a breakout performance.
As Robin Williams' last on screen performance, one wonders why it had to be a film like 'Boulevard.' Not that it's bad, but it's not great either. Then there's that somber tone that forces one to think of the surprisingly depressing way such a great actor left this world too early.
Williams' film career took a decidedly dark turn where he found himself playing troubled introverts. This kind of Williams character is perhaps best embodied by Lance in 'World's Greatest Dad.' For all the outwardly crazy manic bravado Williams exude in comedic roles, usually his dramatic roles featured a man devoid of confidence who found himself facing down the darkest moments of his life. In 'World's Greatest Dad' Lance has to come to grips with the accidental death of his son. Because of the embarrassing nature of his death, Lance pretends his son committed suicide to save whatever legacy his son may have left behind. It's a darkly humorous, but deeply emotional role. Lance's same quirks transfer over to Nolan in 'Boulevard.'
Nolan is shy and set in his ways. Confidence evades him at every turn. Williams is a master at imbuing a character with shaky poise. His nervous laughs and half smiles betray his likeable demeanor. To Williams' credit it's easy to tell right from the start, just from Nolan's body language, that he's hiding a big secret. It's easy to surmise that his relationship with his wife Joy (Kathy Baker) is, at best, lovingly superficial. They chit-chat, and small talk, but they don't sleep in the same bed and lack any meaningful conversations.
Without knowing that Nolan is hiding something, we can still see that he isn't satisfied. He's been stuck in the same job for decades, and fears a new promotion even if he deserves it. He's found a rut and he's comfortable there even though he may not enjoy it at all.
'Boulevard' tells Nolan's story about being a 60-year-old closeted gay man who's trying to figure out exactly what he wants from life. One night, driving home, Nolan passes by what many would term the red-light district. He happens upon a young prostitute named Leo (Roberto Aguire). The two form a tenuous bond where Nolan just needs companionship, and Leo takes advantage.
It's a semi-interesting slow-boiling narrative that never seems to find its footing. Douglas Soesbe's screenplay rarely takes an unpredictable turn. The plot is blocked in such a way that we know what's coming before it happens. Dito Montiel's directing at least provides a little stylish flare to keep the visuals engaging.
Williams' performance is really what bolsters the film. Though I feel conflicted in saying so, because seeing him in such a sad role makes it hard not to connect it to real-life events. His nervousness, depression, and anxiety are all palpable. Even though he's best known for his comedic roles, his turn in 'Boulevard' is patented Williams' craft.
What feels a tad frustrating about 'Boulevard' is that we never really get to know Nolan other than what's provided for us in how Williams portrays him. His thought process is frustratingly vague, and his backstory disappointingly non-existent. We are able to piece together thin threads of Nolan as a person, however most of him remains a mystery.
Perhaps, though, that's the way it's supposed to be. As sad as it may be Williams was as great at playing sad sacks like Nolan as much – or more – than he was at brash comedic caricatures. The film may be forgettable, though as always, Robin Williams is indelibly memorable.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
This is a barebones Anchor Bay release that comes with a single 25GB Blu-ray.
Say what you will about the movie being packed onto a 25GB disc, it still looks rather good in high definition (probably due to the absence of any special features). Anyway, what really stands out in this 1080p presentation is the decidedly great dark scenes. Usually, in a smaller film like this banding, digital noise, and aliasing will wreak havoc during nighttime scenes. Those anomalies aren't present here. So, when Nolan goes cruising late at night with Leo, the black areas are sufficiently dark and inky. Shadows are very well delineated.
There isn't much in the way of colorfulness to the movie. The palette is muted featuring the antiseptic formality of Nolan's office and the darkened exteriors of the inner city where he lives. There are a few moments of color, like when Nolan visits with his friend a few times. Outside shots in daylight feature some nice contrast, some wonderfully rendered shades of green, and blue skies.
Up-close detail is top-notch also. Pores, tiny facial hairs, and natural wrinkles are all visible. Textures like wood grain, wool suits, and painted walls is as lifelike as they can get. There's not much to complain about here. 'Boulevard' is one of the better looking small budget films on Blu-ray.
So, there's not much to discuss here. Not that 'Boulevard's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is terrible – it's not – but because it's as straightforward as they come. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles here. The sound mix is dialogue heavy and most of it is anchored in the front channels.
There is some ambient sound though. The street Nolan cruises before finding Leo is alive with street noises like cars honking in the distance, faint sirens, etc. There's little in the way of low-end frequencies, but that's because they're not really necessary here.
Directionality works well up front. Conversations are prioritized nicely and the voices are placed in the appropriate channels. Dialogue is always clear even during whispers. Like I said, not a lot to talk about here, nevertheless considering the film it makes sense.
There are no special features provided.
It’s hard watching Robin Williams portray such a sad and lonely character in his final performance, especially when we know how much he was actually suffering. ‘Boulevard’ isn’t really a great film in terms of revealing untold truths or piecing one’s life back together, but it does feature a memorable acting performance from one of our greatest actors. For that alone it’s worth giving a look.