“Tom Hardy” are the first two words of London Road‘s TIFF synopsis (and the first two words of Variety‘s tweet calling it “Tom Hardy’s London Road” last night), which seems like both a logical promotional decision and also the basis for a future class-action lawsuit, because Hardy is in it for maaaaybe three minutes (and I still have no idea why). But okay, it’s hard promoting an independent film, you have do what you can to get people in the door, and yadda yadda yadda. I get it. I promise I won’t hold it against the film too much.
The idea behind London Road is intriguing, at least in theory. In 2006, Ipswich was terrorized by a serial prostitute murderer known as “The Suffolk Strangler.” The idea was to take recorded interviews with the townspeople, stutters, filler words and all, add music, and turn it into a “verbatim musical.” Loike, d’ya know what oy mean n’ aw dat? As someone who has long been obsessed with the British habit of asking rhetorical questions at the end of sentences (“Oi, he’s lost the plot, ain’t he?”), I can dig the attempt to explore and celebrate vernacular minutiae (in the process of coming to grips with an awful crime).
There’s a charming open-source quality to London Road. I read The Laramie Project in college, and remember hating the idea of some New York theater company descending en masse on a small town and then purporting to tell the “true story” of the people there. As if the lurid nature of the crime that just occurred wasn’t the real draw, when clearly it was. As if the goal wasn’t to judge the place and the people there, when clearly it was. People from small towns frequently maligned by outsiders can appreciate this sensitivity. London Road seems to have a similar jumping off point, but by using verbatim interviews and adding deliberately stagey touches to it, they aren’t trying to disguise the part where the facts stop and their creative liberties begin. They’re highlighting it, and for me that goes a long way toward making it okay. You’re allowed to judge and take liberties, just be aboveboard with the basis of your judgments and about which parts are your liberties. I’d like to see biopics in general start to move in this direction.
Trouble is, London Road is a musical, and here’s the thing about music: it sounds better with a melody. Hooks, shifting patterns, recurring themes — something to sing along to and make you care. Movies are like that too. Plots, main characters, patterns and themes that recur and evolve. London Road has precious few of these, neither characters nor musical melodies, the fact that I don’t know Tom Hardy’s character’s name or why he was in the movie at all being just one example.
The townspeople (Suffolkers? Ipswizznizzitches?) are initially interesting — goofy, disarming Brits speaking extemporaneously — but characters fail to emerge and very quickly it becomes like watching a musical where every actor is chorus and there are no leads. The music is a bit like that too. Only a couple of the “songs” actually sound like songs. They mostly sound like what they are: actors sing-talking elliptical monologues about nothing (usually nothing, anyway).
The dialogue isn’t curated well enough that you get any insight into the town or the place, and the closest it gets to the actual crime is a prostitute played by an actress trying obnoxiously hard to look hard-bitten. After the intrigue of the initial premise, London Road quickly devolves into so much blah blah and yakkety yak. Imagine actors talk-singing the ingredients of a shampoo bottle and you’re on the right track. It gets tedious, then it gets dull, then it gets so dull and tedious that it’s somewhat infuriating. It was an interesting idea, but this movie is a dog. Rated Nah for “nah.”
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.