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It seems somewhat daunting to critique Boulevard () objectively, for a dark shadow sits over its 88-minute runtime.
With the exception of a voiceover role in a film later this year, and ignoring its debut at Tribeca last year, Boulevard is the last fresh material viewers will be treated to from Robin Williams. It seems ironic that a man known for his energy and enthusiasm should enjoy his last starring role in what is perhaps the most understated performance of his career.
Williams plays Nolan Mack, a man stuck in a tedious routine. He has worked at the same bank for almost three decades. Once finished, he comes home, exchanges pleasantries with his wife Joy (Kathy Baker), before they retire to their separate bedrooms. It’s a bleak, languishing situation, with Nolan’s life one of maintaining appearances.
Everything changes for Nolan when he decides to drive by a group of sex workers. Here, he meets Leo , setting into motion a chain of events that force Nolan to come to terms with himself as his decades-long facade slowly crumbles.
Williams offers a masterful performance, capturing the shy naivety of a man who has denied his own feelings for so long. In an initial exchange with Leo, played by Roberto Aguire with a mixture of suspicion, innocence and youthful contempt, Nolan refuses sex, instead preferring to just talk — to open up a part of his life he has kept fiercely closeted — even as Leo stands naked before him.
Boulevard slowly unpicks Nolan’s world, with Williams’ performance similarly evolving over the course of the film. The shy, awkward man who starts a semi-platonic relationship with Leo, terrified and remorseful when his lies are uncovered, slowly gives way to someone who tires of maintaining his falsehoods.
Director Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Fighting) maintains the film’s unhurried pace with a similarly restrained direction, while Douglas Soesbe’s script is simple without being overly simplistic — though a few hamfisted moments are evident, such as Nolan’s coming out to his senile father.
An unusual film, Boulevard‘s simple plot gives way to a quiet confidence, as an excellent cast navigate these oft-sailed waters — a man finding himself is hardly revolutionary cinema. The filmalsoanages to escape from the clouds of Williams’ death, serving as an excellent reminder of how great an actor Williams truly was. It’s somewhat bittersweet that, as Nolan builds his life anew, we are reminded that the man portraying him failed to do the same.
Boulevard plays June 19th at Reel Affirmations, presented by HRC and Chef Patrick Vanas. A Q&A follows the 7 p.m. showing with a second showing at 9:15 p.m. Human Rights Campaign, 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Tickets start at $10. Find out more at reelaffirmations.org.
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