The lurid absurdity and arch characters of novelist/satirist Martin Amis drip off the screen in “London Fields,” an adaptation of his work that will be remembered — if at all — for being the final on-screen collaboration between Amber Heard and her ex, Johnny Depp.
It’s a neo-noir murder mystery capturing Heard at peak femme fatale in a tale observed, manipulated and told by a struggling writer (Billy Bob Thornton) for “the chaos.”
“Chaos” doesn’t quite sum up the movie. But almost.
Thornton’s writer Samson Young cuts right to the chase with one line to the femme fatale, Nicola Six (Heard), a fortune teller who has seen her impending death and has agreed allowed him to watch with, “I’m pretty worried that the critics are going to call you a ‘male fantasy figure.’”
Heard is dressed or undressed provocatively from first scene to last, a woman conning and seducing a hapless pretty boy (Theo James), a darts pro/cabbie-gambler (Jim Sturgess, over-the-top and never worse) and perhaps the novelist desperate for his first murder mystery to be a hit. Samson’s narration is the only quotable portion of the dialogue, partly because it’s chewy and mostly because it is omnipresent — incessant.
“I know the murderer. I know the murderee. I know the time. I know the place. I know the motive and I know the means.”
London is in steep decline, Keith the gambling cabbie is in hock with every bookie in town, the deadliest of whom has Elton John’s 1970s wardrobe and Johnny Depp’s best English accent.
Nicola wants money for this “get a kid out of Burma” scheme and Guy Clinch (These NAMES), played by James, is putty in her hands.
As indeed are they all, as Keith’s darts game future is on the line, Samson’s novel and whatever the hell Nicola REALLY wants and whatever Guy’s angle is.
Jason Isaacs is the posh Martin Amis surrogate novelist who does an apartment swap that that put Samson in London in the first place, model Cara Delevingne dresses WAY down and lets us see she still cannot act and a cool druggy effect gives Depp Big Eyes for a moment.
You can’t top that with anything but sodomy with a night stick.
This is something of a hi-toned Guy Ritchie knock off, and what the script and director make the actors do does no one credit.
Sturgess is at his most over the top, in your face, brown teeth — dancing -air-guitaring to Dire Straits, wearing a ridiculous
Thornton isn’t blameless, warily underplaying the over-eager, unscrupulous writer cliche.
“If London is a spider’s web, maybe I’m a fly”
A clever conceit — Samson doesn’t just observe and wiretap his book, which Nicola refers to as “MY” book. He is imaging, editing and rewriting scenes that the others are acting out as it goes along. That idea is abandoned after one go.
A particularly stupid scene, grisly Keith putting the moves on Nicola as Guy follows a few steps behind and Samson follows them all a few further steps back.
Director Matthew Cullen is best known as the director of Katy Perry, Modest Mouse and Weezer music videos, and doing effects for “Pacific Rim.” He had the cheek to sue the producers for this 2015 project for messing with whatever cut he’d come up with. The film has a look, but little coherence, logic or connection.
Amis playing around with the decline of Western Civilization seemed timely in the early ’80s, even more so now. But the nihilism of it all, the sheer nonsense, is hard to swallow. Sex kitten come-ons, sex scenes and a finale built around darts?
If Heard had a hard time getting people to believe her version of the Depp breakup, it’s probably because she keeps playing variations of this man eater on screen (often with “Six” in the name) and doing it so darned convincingly.
She’s sexy as all get out in the role, just not interesting here, and the rest of the players act as if they smell “troubled production” in the film’s future — big name cast be damned. They’re tentative, hedging their bets, save for Sturgess. Who could have used a bit of restraint.
It’s just that our narrator never spoke truer words than these — “You can’t stop somebody once they’ve started.”
MPAA Rating:R for sexual content/nudity, language throughout, some violence and drug use
Cast: Amber Heard, Theo James, Jason Isaac, Billy Bob Thornton, Cara DeLevingne, Gemma Chan, Jim Sturgess, Lily Cole
Credits:Directed by Matthew Cullen, script by Roberta Hanley, based on the Martin Amis novel. A Paladin release.
Running time: 1:45