Film Review: 44 Inch Chest (Malcolm Venville)

I reviewed the new film, 44 Inch Chest, for Weekinrewind.com, a film review and news site. Read it here or below. The movie, due out in LA on 1/15 and NY on 1/29, is the latest from the writers of Sexy Beast, and it’s really worth checking out.

“44 Inch Chest,” the new film from first-time director Malcolm Venville and the writers of “Sexy Beast,” is a gathering of foul-mouthed, cantankerous, crusty old British men. Cast members Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson are venerable actors of English and American stage and film, and they sink their collective teeth into the film’s witty script with aplomb and vigor.

This is a British gangster film of sorts, although nothing really “gangster” ever goes down–and, thankfully, nothing even remotely as stylized in a Guy Ritchie manner occurs. The film opens with Colin Diamond (Winstone) lying in a destroyed room set to the mournful Nilsson cover ballad, “Without You.” We don’t know what’s happened–is he alive, is he dead, is he dead drunk? His eyes flutter, and from there his character takes something of a Tony Soprano turn.

Diamond is a tough guy, true, but his wife just left him, thus leaving him anxious, desperate and psychologically destroyed. One quick montage later, he and his mates, the gay Meredith (McShane), the doddering Peanut (Hurt), the dapper Mal (Stephen Dillane), and the sensible Archie (Wilkinson) meet up in a dilapidated house on the outskirts of London with Colin’s wife’s lover tied up in a cupboard.

“44 Inch Chest” plays out more as a stage play than it does a film, with much of the action taking place in one room, and each character delivering several pages of monologue at one time or another. But Venville doesn’t shy away from cinematic tricks, either–he uses flashbacks to piece together the sequence of events after Colin’s found out that he is a cuckold. There is great tension in the script and the threat of violence lingers in almost every scene, but it rarely plays out. Colin’s confrontation with his wife, the beautiful Liz (Joanne Whalley), is horrific as he details it to his pals, but Venville only shows the violence briefly, and he waits to do so.

The dialogue is sharp and precise, allowing each actor to flesh out his character over the course of the film’s 90-minute running time. There is a hilarious sequence in which Peanut uses the plot of the DeMille film “Samson and Delilah” to illustrate his take on women, and Venville incorporates actual footage of the film to showcase this. But mostly, it’s the interplay between these characters–moments of hostility, sensitivity and introspection peppered throughout –that does the trick.

Winstone’s Colin is an anti-hero, someone who has committed a horrible, misogynist act, but with whom you nevertheless can’t help but empathize. Ultimately, this is a story about his redemption, about how far he will let loose his id in order to exact revenge for a perceived injustice. When he finally faces the young waiter they have kidnapped, the question remains whether he will succumb to his fury or seize this moment and turn it into something cathartic.

For all its dialogue and relative lack of action, “44 Inch Chest” is lively and vibrant, no doubt due to the pitch-perfect performances of its principle cast. The film relies on substance over style and flash, but manages to impress all the same. Hopefully, this will serve as a guidebook to Ritchie and his legion of Tarantino wannabes.

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