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Dead End Street

Starz Digital Media
 88 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Dito Monteil 
Starring: Robin Williams, Kathy Baker, Bob Odenkirk 

Whenever posthumous movies of talented, well-liked actors are released, audience reactions to the films are often colored by opinions of the actors themselves. In the past year, we’ve witnessed cinematic farewells to James Gandolfini and Paul Walker, among others, and many looked at The Drop and Furious Seven more favorably knowing they were gone. Now, sadly, Robin Williams gives us his last dramatic performance in Boulevard. Even more sadly, the movie’s drama and pathos pale next to the real life tragedy of its star.


The role is a perfect one for the quieter, introspective version of Williams, the one that appeared from time to time in films like What Dreams May Come. He plays Nolan Mack, a 60-year-old, closeted assistant manager at a suburban bank branch. He leads a quiet life in a sexless marriage with a wife, Joy (Kathy Baker), who loves him for his intellect and empathy. She knows and accepts what he is and is content with their upper-middle-class life. Nolan’s only friend is a college professor (Bob Odenkirk) he’s known since their student days and who probably knows his proclivities as well. As far as proclivities go, Nolan doesn’t’ really display any, as he goes through a quiet daily existence, maintaining a low, seemingly content profile.


Two things shatter Nolan’s world, one seemingly good and one bad. On the good side, his supervisor recommends her for a promotion to manage another branch, thinking Nolan will welcome the opportunity, but Nolan does not want any more stress in his life. In the meantime, Nolan’s father, whom he has visited frequently in the nursing home, has suffered a stroke. So, one night after visiting his father, Nolan acts on impulse for the first time in his life.


As he drives down a street with an assortment of streetwalkers of both sexes, Nolan turns around and picks one up, a young man named Leo (Roberto Aguire). Nolan takes Leo to a cheap motel where, to the younger man’s surprise, he doesn’t want sex, only companionship. Moreover, Nolan keeps returning to the street corner and spending more platonic time with Leo. Soon, an oddly symbiotic relationship between the two arises, as Leo, who is heterosexual, finds himself liking Nolan as a sort of father figure. Unfortunately, that state of affairs doesn’t continue long, because Leo owes money to Eddie (Giles Matthey), a vicious street thug who wants Leo to put the squeeze on Nolan. Eventually, Nolan’s second life spills over into his first, especially after Leo and Eddie show up at Leo’s bank.


Boulevard is always an interesting movie, as it shows a seldom seen side of gay life. Nolan is a man with little physical desire in his life, but a great mental and emotional one. While Joy fulfills his needs on the intellectual level, no matter how much she tries, she can’t completely satisfy his emotional needs. So, Nolan goes looking in the only way he can, although it’s pretty clear to viewers early on that Leo can never be what Nolan wants.


Ironically, however, although audiences can understand a movie like Boulevard intellectually, the movie does not make the necessary emotional connection. Like Nolan’s life itself, it feels too sterile, as if director Dito Monteil held back too much. The blame for this probably lies in the screenplay from Douglas Sosebee, a writer whose output seems to consist primarily of TV suspense thrillers. He lacks the right touch for this. Not surprisingly, the most effective scenes in the movie are the action ones in which Eddie shows up to make trouble.


Sad as it is to say, Monteil is lucky in one regard, because Boulevard is tremendously moving in one respect that has nothing to do with what actually occurs onscreen. No, as the movie progresses, audiences become more and more aware almost minute by minute that Robin Williams’ time is coming to an end. We feel for Nolan not because of who he is but because of who is playing him. Seeing Nolan’s quiet anguish and his longing, we read Williams’ own tragic ending into it. Williams’ onscreen performance is good but certainly not memorable in any regard other than the fact it is his last. I confess that, instead of trying to understand what Nolan was feeling, I tried to guess what Williams was feeling in the various scenes.


Boulevard is a short movie, clocking in at 88 minutes, and it is one that feels overly condensed. What Nolan does in the movie feels arbitrary and in furtherance of the plot, since his motivations aren’t explained in sufficient detail. Admittedly, it would have required some rather subtle writing to give more background on Nolan’s character without turning the film even more melodramatic than it was. But it really needed to have some more depth.


Boulevard has been one of the most difficult films for me to try to objectively rate and review based on its own merits. In the end, I have to believe that, had this film starred anyone else, or if Williams hadn’t died, the film would have felt overly dramatic, with an almost TV-movie earnestness to it. Williams does a good job here, but he, like his character, is just too restrained. Williams’ dramatic characters often projected an aura of men with a lot more going on under the surface than was shown (which made him an effective villain on those rare occasions like Insomnia when he played heavies), but I never quite picked up that vibe here. What was going on under the surface was Williams’ own angst, a subject that indicates that a biography of William that focused on what he went through playing this role would be far more interesting, and genuinely dramatic, than Boulevard itself.

Read other reviews of Boulevard:


Boulevard (2014) on IMDb