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Friday, April 9, 2010

44 INCH CHEST -- DVD review by porfle

How many of you saw the ads for 44 INCH CHEST (2009) and thought it was going to feature scenes of gruelingly violent gangland-style torture? And be all dark and grim and hard to watch? I did. But since it's not like that, the interesting thing about the movie is gradually finding out where it's really going and what it's really about.

Ray Winstone plays successful car dealer Colin Diamond, a big lug who loves his lovely wife Liz (the lovely Joanne Whalley) too much. When she announces one evening that she's "met someone else", he loses it. Like, completely. A few semi-coherent phone calls later, and Colin's closest mates are helping him kidnap a young French waiter right out of the restaurant where he works and taking him to a gutted building where they'll debate what the devastated Colin should do with him. Or, rather, to him.

Aside from a few brief scenes, 44 INCH CHEST takes place in one big room and has the feel of a filmed stage play. Director Malcolm Venville's mostly stationary camera allows us to appreciate the actors' performances without distraction as they move within the frame. And what a cast it is--I could enjoy watching this stellar group of British actors in just about anything.

Tom Wilkinson, an actor I've come to appreciate more and more in recent years, is the never-married Archie, who lives with his elderly mum and alternates between being a gentle soul and a tough customer according to the situation. Wiry, hateful old coot Peanut, played to the hilt by an aging John Hurt, is bitter to the core and itching to exact some extreme punishment on anyone who offends his rigid sense of loyalty and fidelity. Stephen Dillane's Mal is simply a shallow young tough who's up for anything.

The infallibly cool Ian McShane, who recently helped Joan Allen give Paul W.S. Anderson's dumb-fun DEATH RACE a few moments of actual class, plays gay sophisticate Meredith, whose sex life is immaculately free of love or attachment. He's the exact opposite of a man like Colin who loves with every fiber of his being and whose entire universe is turned inside-out when that love is betrayed. Meredith is his own universe, and his love life is based on the "Big Bang" theory.

Ray Winstone seethes, agonizes, and suffers his way through the role of the anguished Colin with an alternately manic and dumbstruck intensity. As the night drags on, he begins to lapse into an almost psychotic state with periods of delusion as the constant bickering of his friends represents his own indecision--even after they've left the room, they remain as inner voices hashing out his own conflicting thoughts and enacting his worst fears and insecurities. (At the end of the movie, I was almost surprised to find that they weren't figments of his imagination all along.) Finally left alone with his helpless captive, the young man whom he blames for the ruination of his life, Colin undergoes a torturous battle with his own psyche before a moment of painful self-realization compels him to do what must be done.

The script by Louis Mellis and David Scinto of SEXY BEAST fame bristles with snappy dialogue and interesting asides--old Peanut's analysis of how Colin's situation is analogous to the film SAMSON AND DELILAH is fun--and is packed with enough "F" words to make Tony Montana's jaw drop. It also seems as though these guys use the "C" word, which rhymes with "bunt" but doesn't have anything to do with baseball, the same way you and I use words like "and" or "the." I would roughly estimate that those two words comprise fully half of the screenplay. Needless to say, the film earns its "R" rating for language. On a more aesthetic note, the musical score by Angelo Badalamenti is moody and ethereal, and the cinematography nicely captures the gritty underbelly of London.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.85:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround with English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include a commentary track and an interview with director Malcolm Venville, a making-of featurette, and the film's trailer. "Epilogues" features some of the film's characters filling us in on what happened to them after the fadeout, with Peanut vividly describing his own contentious encounter with the Grim Reaper.

44 INCH CHEST didn't turn out to be at all what I expected, and if you're disappointed that it doesn't meet such expectations, you won't like it. But if you go along with the way it eventually resolves its highly volatile situation, you may find it to be a satisfying and perhaps even cathartic experience.

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1 comment:

Rangzeb Hussain said...

Nice review! I was very lucky and saw this film in a cinema when it received a very limited theatrical release. I agree with your comments about the expectations of the audience once they realize it's a film starring Ray Winstone and set in London's criminal underworld. As you quite rightly point out, this movie is less an Action-Gangster film and more of a human Drama. This provocative film makes you care for these men whose lives are normally filled with filth, vice and violence. However, despite the violence and claret spilling mostly off-screen, the movie actually gets under your skin and disturbs. Fundamental and metaphysical questions are posed about morality and justice. The gritty realism, the scabrous language and the tense and claustrophobic setting all help to generate a compelling atmosphere. This nail-biting film will nail the viewer to the seat until the final tragic bars of the soundtrack ebb away.