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If you would indulge me for a moment, I'm gonna talk about some pretty heavy stuff that pertains to life. I normally keep things pretty light-hearted around here, but I feel a need to help forward a message that the film I am going to review tonight was trying (in my opinion) to get out there. Life is a funny thing, in fact, it is something that a lot of us forget to experience. We get so caught up in conforming and following the same dull path so many of us had walked before. How often do you really take the time to sit down and think about what you are doing for you? How often do you ponder if the life you find yourself is really the one you want to see through to the end? I'm willing to bet it is infrequent enough that the very concepts I'm discussing here seem foreign to all of you. This is the big, story-driving message behind the criminally underrated tale of a man who was woken up to his true self too late, this is Boulevard (2014).
Set presumably in the present day, Nolan Mack (Robin Williams) is your average over-the-hill man whose life has apparently found its niche. He has been working at the same job at a local bank for the past 26 years and is finally on the verge of a promotion. He has a wife, Joy (Kathy Baker), who shares in his contentment toward their living situation and a father who is in what is essentially a catatonic state at a nursing home. He has some friends in his life such as Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Patty (Eleonore Hendricks) who keep in touch via dinner dates and random meetings outside their homes. All in all, it is clear that Nolan is anything but content not only with his day to day life but who he is as a person. At 60 years old he is having an identity crisis, one that would find its solution in the most unlikely place. One night when driving, Nolan almost hits a young man named Leo (Roberto Aguire) who turns out to be a male prostitute. The two slowly develop a friendship and it is clear that Nolan yearns for something more, urging Leo to keep in touch with him outside of their usual meetings.
Nolan keeps the Leo aspects of his life a secret from all who attempt to pry information out of him. Because of his secrecy, both his work and personal life become severely strained. Nolan finds himself lying to his wife and acting very out of character at work, which eventually leads to a breaking point at the end of the film. Nolan finally comes to terms with the fact that he is a homosexual, and that he was much happier being around Leo than he was with his wife, father, friends, etc. The crazy life that he comes to know because of his love for Leo consumes him and he finally knows what it is like to live for himself. There was no more monotony or routine, he was able to fly by the seat of his pants and though it proved dangerous to both himself and Leo, it was what he knew he needed deep down. In the end of the film, Nolan and Joy separate and live their own lives, free from the charade that was their marriage. Both seem happy, and Nolan is finally able to be happy in the way he wants to be, not in the way he's told to be by the formula that dictated him.
Though this film is very underappreciated in my view, it does have a few flaws that can turn off the casual viewer. For one, the character of Nolan begins almost too sad for my taste. I understand the point was supposed to be driven home that he was unhappy with the trajectory of his life but it almost seemed overbearing in the first act. On the topic of Nolan, he really was the centerpiece of this movie, which really shouldn't be a complaint but it is simply because of the fact that I was given absolutely no reason to care about anyone else as the story goes on. Your own personal morality is what causes you to feel or not feel for characters like Leo or Joy. Because of this I really didn't like the character of Nolan for a lot of the movie. Do I agree with why he was doing what he did? Sure, he's a 60-year-old man who really didn't have a lot of interesting aspects to his day-to-day life. There's nothing wrong with broadening your horizons, but lying to your wife? That's not really within my moral wheelhouse. Though he pulls you back to him in the end (more on that later), for a long time it is difficult to read where his character stands and if he legitimately feels bad for all of the conflict his actions had caused.
As for the strong points of Boulevard, one of my favorite things about this film is the way it is shot. The casual blur, lighting, lots of dark, driving sequences really fit the theme of the film and its ambiguity. The film creates a lot of questions for the viewer through its blurred presentation, both literal and in terms of the writing. It really makes you feel on an emotional level and question what you're doing with your own life. A great film poses a question and provokes thought, and this film does plenty of that for the viewer. As for housekeeping things, the pacing was perfect for the sake of the story, as the slow burn was the best way to go. The film wasn't a one and done sort of story, it left the viewer with room to process things and try to make sense of what exactly is going on. The biggest thing I can give this film is Robin Williams' performance, which in my opinion was one of his best dramatic performances ever. Williams was commonly known as the funny guy who was a million miles an hour from start to finish. Though we all know he did have a great ability to act dramatically when necessary, I have never seen him so somber yet so true to life than in Boulevard. The film does treat it like a crutch at many points, however, it is hard not to when Williams is putting out some of the hardest-hitting and self-reflective work of his entire career.
To conclude probably the most serious review I've done to date, I recommend you all give Boulevard a chance, purely for the sake of trying something different. Williams was one of the greatest actors of his generation, and it isn't hard to see why. In 2014, a time when a profound film was not something I really knew I could get into, this film always stuck with me. I couldn't even articulate why, but I always knew it was a hidden gem that would never get the recognition it deserved. Boulevard is a film that will make you take a long, hard look in the mirror and with any luck give you the courage to step back from the every day and take a chance. Hopefully not something too drastic that ends up hurting those around you, but at least something that helps you feel as though you have made a choice to live for yourself. I give this one an 8 out of 10, and I'm sure I'll go back again to give it another look very soon.