After spending years in production purgatory, femme fatale noir London Fields has finally landed on Netflix. Is it really as bad as Rotten Tomatoes says it is? As Katie Parker explains with tremendous detail: yes.
Like everyone else, I love a cinematic stinker. Gigli, The Snowman, Serenity (the fish videogame one, not the Firefly spin-off one): I devour them all in a smug state of schadenfreude, the bigger the bungle the better.
For a variety of reasons, Netflix tends to be an excellent place to locate these. From their extensive MarVista catalogue, to their extraordinarily ill-advised in-house productions, to the random dregs of miserable movie history that they presumably acquired for nothing, never before has there been so easy a way to access a bevvy of failed flicks.
Now, after roughly a million years floating around in a haze of rumours and lawsuits, perhaps the ultimate crappy movie has arrived on the streaming platform for the ultimate experience in perverse film pleasure: the nightmarish noir, London Fields.
With a nice round zero on Rotten Tomatoes and widely reported production problems that saw just about everyone involved suing each other by the film’s end, the oft-derided but rarely seen film has spent years in Hollywood purgatory. Roughly six years since it first went into production, we can finally all bask in its worthless glow.
Adapted from the acclaimed 1989 Martin Amis novel of the same name, London Fields follows Samson Young (Billy Bob Thornton), a washed-up American author with a two-decades spanning case of writer’s block and an unspecified terminal illness who, while spending time in London, comes across Nicola Six (Amber Heard), a clairvoyant femme fatale who can predict the future.
Unfortunately for Nicola, this future does not extend particularly far, as she has foreseen her own demise at the hands of an unknown man in her life, on the night of her 30th birthday – which, considering she’s 29, doesn’t seem to worry Nicola as much as one might think.
In fact, her chillness about her impending doom runs so deep that, when she arrives in a bar and (clairvoyantly) senses that the man who will murder her is present, she gets to work creating a twisted love triangle with the three randos she happens to meet there: Keith Talent (Jim Sturges), a loutish cockney crim; Guy Clinch (Theo James), a well-to-do pretty boy; and Samson, who doesn’t so much meet her as he does blatantly stalk her until she notices.
Realising that her wacky death-wish would make fab fodder for a new novel, Samson strikes a deal with Nicola (who, what do you know, also happens to be his upstairs neighbour): he will watch her and follow her around like a weirdo until she is dispatched, then turn the story of her death into his masterpiece. She in turn gets… the honour of knowing that she made Samson some cash?
This is A-ok with Nicola, so Samson gets to work peeping through the strangely widely spaced floorboards that separate he and Nicola’s dwellings and noting down the sexy goings-on between her, Keith and Guy.
It’s a wild ride of terrible acting, terrible direction, slow motion soft porn and some of the ugliest cinematography and staging you’ll ever see in your life. Which is to say, London Fields lives up to the hype!
But is it bad enough to be good or just… bad?
To a generous soul like myself, it’s clear that at some point London Fields was meant to be received with a kind of wry, meta irony: Billy Bob Thornton as a writer with a self-confessed inability to imagine things? Great! Endless shots of Amber Heard in various stages of undress from the perspective of drooling voyeurs? Sure! Everything culminating in a bizarre darts tournament between Sturges and an uncredited Johnny Depp? Why not!
Yet even in its attempts at a kind of stylised cartoonish noir satire—not a terrible idea on paper—London Fields is objectively bad in almost every discernible way, to the point where watching it is, unfortunately, more painful than it is pleasurable. No wonder even the people who made it want nothing to do with it.
Cullen sued the producers for, amongst other things, fraud, not paying him and not giving him access to the final cut. The producers sued Cullen for nipping off during filming to make Katy Perry’s music video for ‘California Gurls’. Seediest of all, Heard sued over the use of a body double to make it seem like she had done more nudity than she had. Critics eviscerated it, Cullen agreed and, sadly, so do I.
For fans of terrible movies, London Fields is like a kind of final boss to conquer—more a test of endurance and morbid curiosity than a rival to a film like The Room. Horrible to look at and painfully overlong, it’s a travesty of cinema, a curse on us all and a fabulous entry into stinker cinema history. Thank goodness then that it has finally found its home in the land of crappy movies—right where it belongs.