It’s strange to think it’s been two years since Robin Williams died – I can still remember turning on the news and seeing it, watching in disbelief and eventually crying myself to sleep. Sadly, Williams’ death means that one day, his last film had to appear, and this is it. Boulevard proves to be a fine swan song, a fitting showcase of William’s power in summoning and conveying emotion.
Williams stars as Nolan Mack, a loans officer at a local bank who has led the same unremarkable monotonous life for almost 26 years. He and his wife (Kathy Baker) have embraced their marriage of convenience as a way of avoiding reality. One day, after spending time at the hospital looking after his dying father, he takes a turn down an unfamiliar street and meets a troubled young hustler named Leo (Roberto Aguire). He picks him up, paying for his companionship rather than for sex and, in trying to figure out his relationship with this younger man, Nolan confronts his long-suppressed sexual identity and who he really is as a person.
At its heart, Boulevard is a film about repression and the negative effects it can have on your life – this is most notable in the way that the Nolan character evolves throughout the story. There is a massive conflict as he changes one repressed secret, his sexuality, for the secret life he leads with Leo. Early in the film, Nolan says that he doesn’t like the hurt people, and won’t embrace his true self for fear of hurting his wife (speaking of whom, Kathy Baker is excellent here, her final scene with Williams being a wonderful example of balancing the poignant with the dramatic).
Obviously, no discussion of Williams’ final film would be complete without talking about the lead actor himself. This is by no means his finest film, nor will his performance be considered one of his best, but Williams’ subtleness brings a lot to the character. We do not really learn a lot about Nolan (nor anything other character, really – this is not a movie for people obsessed with backstory and details) – indeed, all we really have of him is Williams’ performance, and so it is fortunate that we have an actor who is so adept at conveying those little emotional nuances.
This is not a typical Williams’ role, manic and imbued with energy. No, this is quite the opposite, with Nolan being a stilted and quiet man who takes time on every word. Williams’ performance seems to suggest a certain sadness to Nolan (and a massive degree of fear to what he is doing), which makes his quest for fulfilment and his desperate attempts to find companionship all the more touching and saddening. In many ways, it hits the same kind of notes as Williams’ role in One Hour Photo, but less so.
The rest of the cast are all good, although they are very much background players in this film – the focus is on the Macks, and on Leo. Aguire’s is an interesting character, unable to understand Nolan wanting company rather than sex – it becomes a weird, almost father-son type relationship between the two – and we are fortunate that the film doesn’t try to force a Hollywood climax in which he achieves redemption at Nolan’s hands. He is far too broken to truly understand and appreciate the kindness and generosity Nolan wants to provide.
(A side-note – in dealing with Leo, Nolan also comes across his pimp, who is a violent and laughable villain who, in a film that deals with hidden feelings and people who struggle to change, seems to belong to a different one entirely.)
Williams’ final film is tinged with a dour air, and a definite feeling of melancholy, although how much of this is down to the film itself is an interesting question. This is a quiet and understated affair, and one that ends incredibly bitter-sweetly. I would recommend it based on its lead alone – this the last chance the audience will have to see a new Robin Williams film, and to enjoy the talent of a man with was truly a great star of cinema.
Director: Dito Montiel
Cast: Robin Williams (Nolan Mack), Kathy Baker (Joy), Roberto Aguire (Leo), Giles Matthey (Eddie), Eleonore Hendricks (Patty), Bob Odenkirk (Winston)
Running Time: 88 Mins