London Film Festival 2009: 44 INCH CHEST Review

jackie-chan
Contributor; London
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London Film Festival 2009: 44 INCH CHEST Review
From the writing team behind Sexy Beast (Louis Mellis and David Scinto) comes another supremely sweary study of a masculinity in crisis. Whereas the arrival of Ben Kingsley brought Ray Winstone's life crumbling around him in the former, here it's a revelation of infidelity as his wife announces she's "found someone else" that sends the big man off on one. A dialogue-driven comic drama, 44 Inch Chest shares much in common with Sexy Beast, but ultimately stugggles to quite meet (admittedly high) expectations.

 First time feature director Malcolm Venville has managed to pull together a quite outstanding cast of core buddies to surround Winstone as the cuckolded, distraught Colin Diamond. John Hurt is cantankerous, embittered old man Peanut, perpetually bickering with Ian McShane's suave, gay Meredith. Tom Wilkinson's Archie lives with his Mum and is generally a jolly good chap - more than can be said for the belligerent Mal (Stephen Dellane). Along the way we're also treated to a fabulous cameo from Stephen Berkoff.

When an enraged Colin beats the name of wife Liz's lover out of her, the band of friends get together to kidnap the French "fucking wife-fucker" and let Colin do his worst. They hole up in a boarded up East End house where the drama unravels in resolutely stagey fashion. The friends are defined by where they sit on a spectrum of masculinity rather than by any elaborate back story. From Peanut's anachronistic, old world man's man, to Meredith's predatory homosexual, they all curiously take the same line on punishment for Colin's wife and her young lover. It's then left to Winstone to weigh up the dilemma over a not inconsiderable quantity of brandy. Bar the occasional flash back when time-passing anecdotes are recounted to the group, the action is confined to the kidnap house. In doing so Venville allows the actors to shine and the witty, playful dialogue to take centre stage, the down side being that any lapses in pace or structural failings are quickly felt. With such a bare canvas for the actors, they need to be at the top of their game and thankfully they overwhelmingly are (remarkably, none dominating) with Winstone at the centre. There's no action or scenery to distract from the emotional core of the film, and Winstone is superb, an extraordinary bloated specimen, tragically unable to comprehend the demise of his marriage, veering from disbelief, to anger, to melancholy with aplomb.

Where 44 Inch Chest falls short is in the closing stages of Colin's emotional evolution. As a narrative, the film fizzles out with a surreal climax that, whilst certainly amusing, feels out of kilter with preceding events as though the script ran out of steam. Likewise, the masculinity of the characters isn't so much explored, as described, leaving you unsure as to whether the film really has that much to say about it besides presenting some different (mostly negative) interpretations.

When it does work though, and for much of the 94 minutes it really does, it's a hilarious volley of quick-fire, foul-mouthed poetic banter evidenced best as the lads set to work intimidating the unfortunate "loverboy". Reminiscent of Kingsley's rant in Sexy Beast its sheer relentless momemtum is comic gold. So too, the friends' vignettes work well as entertainments in their own right and there's a joy in watching the cream of British cinema in one room. It doesn't feel quite as cohesive a film as it could have been, but is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining one.

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Malcolm VenvilleLouis MellisDavid ScintoRay WinstoneIan McShaneJohn HurtTom WilkinsonCrimeDrama

More about 44 Inch Chest

Todd BrownOctober 18, 2009 9:07 PM

Supremely sweary is damn straight on this one ... I had the chance to see it a little while back and really like it. The Sexy Beast connection both makes total sense but this is also totally its own film ...

busOctober 19, 2009 6:03 AM

when will this movie come out??? and how did u get to see it so soon Todd Brown

evokativeOctober 20, 2009 5:28 AM

I saw 44 Inch Chest at the Cannes Market and absolutely loved it. Now I haven't seen Sexy Beast so I can't compare, but the acting of all parts were great (with such an amazing cast of some of the best character actors the UK has to offer), the dialogues are very well written (and yes, very foul) and the construction of the story was solid. I was surprised that this wasn't a play adaptation, as really it would work just as good on the stage. The opening scene is also a great joy, and I bet you'll walk away from the cinema with Mariah Carrey in your ears.

I think we should expect this one to come out in a few months in the UK and after the next TIFF for North-America.