Friday, 10 September 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - 44 Inch Chest

Okay, so I broke the idea of doing a daily review, but hey, here I am, and I've got a surprise review on the way as a sort of consolation gift from me to my readers. Alright, I confess too that this surprise review was always on the cards and the idea of me doing the next review as consolation in complete baloney, but either way, the show goes on, and films are still being churned out, yadda, yadda, yadda. Anyway, the film that I am reviewing here is 44 Inch Chest, the debut film by director Malcolm Venville, who has a background in advertisements and photography. The film is scribed by David Mellis and Louis Scinto, who had previously written the 2000 gangster flick Sexy Beast. An introduction to the film would sound something along the lines of this: Ray Winstone stars as Colin Diamond, who has an emotional breakdown after he discovers his wife Liz, played by Joanne Whalley, has been having an affair. As a result of this, his friends, the suave homosexual Meredith, played by Ian McShane, the crotchety and grumpy Old Man Peanut, played by John Hurt, down to earth Archie, played by Tom Wilkinson and the combustible Mal, played by Stephen Dillane, kidnap Liz' "Loverboy", played by Melvil Poupaud, with the intentions of torturing and murdering him. To start with the good about this film, it really is an actor's piece, where the script is written around and specifically catering to the talents of the actors in their specific roles. Whilst all are solid and deliver good performances, even the symbolic characters of Liz and Loverboy, the standout performances of the film would have to be Winstone's Colin, McShane's Meredith and Hurt's Old Man Peanut. Winstone proves himself once again to be a far more chameleonic actor than meets the eye. It's often easy to dismiss Winstone as a big, gangster brute, but if you look at his back catalogue of films, such as Scum and Nil by Mouth, Winstone is a terrifically varied actor. As a man going through a nervous breakdown and consistently in grieving and on the edge, Winstone pays off in what could have been a potentially annoying role. Never overly whiny and talkative nor overly bravado in his grieving, Winstone uses his fantastic physical and facial expressions to do as much talking as his character. Also, McShane is unbelievably suave as Meredith. Despite being a Jack Swagger self-contended type, he still manages to retain a sense of cool and delivers a really fine performance. The ever calm and meditative presence in the film, he portrays Meredith with exactly the right tones and feeling. Whilst a homosexual, he does not perform him as overtly homosexual or stereotypically homosexual in an actorly way, but merely in that confident and nonchalant manner, creating a really memorable character. He is akin to a purring cat, enforced by his calling of his friends by the nickname "kittens", and McShane, for a man nearing his seventies, manages to be believable as Meredith in a wonderful role. Finally, we come to the absolutely mad and scene-stealing performance of John Hurt as Old Man Peanut. Having seen John Hurt in numerous different films and roles, this is Hurt as you have never seen him before, in a role in which his character is both intimidating and hilarious at the same time. Hunched over and with a constant sour look on his face, Hurt embodies the typical curgeomony old man, but not without bringing something interesting to the page. He is so good in this performance that you do take notice of even the tone and intonations with which he delivers his dialogue and of course, his frequent scowls and gesticulations of disgust. 44 Inch Chest truly is a fine acting piece. The dialogue of the script is written very well and really enables the actors to make the best of what they have got. Also, we have the very fine original score by the great Angelo Badalamenti and Massive Attack's Robert "3D" Del Naja. Badalamenti, who is one of the best composers in the world and could make grass seem like something to attention to (see Blue Velvet), contributes some music which is very different for him. Gone are much of the electronic instruments and here we have orchestral arrangements. Now, I usually have a problem with orchestral arrangements because of their intrusiveness, but here it just melts into the film and actually fits in perfectly. The sonic sounds of the film have been saved for 3D, who does some really interesting and uncongenial things with the sound of the film, creating a strange but oddly fitting collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti. Finally, the cinematography by Daniel Landin is good and captures the action unfolding very well, creating an interesting claustrophobia in the setting of the room in which much of the action takes place. However, these good things said about the film, it is unfortunately a flawed film in the midst of all its good parts. For starters, while the dialogue of the script is written well, the plot in pretty flat and uneven in its development throughout the course of the film, particularly in the final act of the film. Many critics have complained of an anticlimax, but it's not this that is the problem, because there is a logical progression in this, but the overall tone of the piece. Certain scenes shine and are touching or intense, but on other occasions they fall flat and just do not seem to work in the context of the overall piece. Coming to mind is a scene in the final third of the film which takes place in the mind of Colin Diamond in which he is paranoid of the idea that Mal has a sexual interest in Liz, imagining him as Liz's personal chauffeur. Also, the breaking of the fourth wall for me takes away from the idea of Colin having internal turmoil, whenever, in this context, he is using the audience as consolation. The breaking of the fourth wall in an unwise move and fails here, telling the audience things that they already know. It is the fault of the screenwriters to have focused too much on the dialogue of the actors and failed to have developed the plot in what is a more logical progression as opposed to going a bit off the rails. Unfortunately Venville fails to notice this problem himself. As a first film this is good, but really, you cannot put it down to rookie inexperience, whenever films such as Four Lions are debut features and are far more well-balanced. Saying that, the work shown in this film shows that Venville has potential as a film-maker. A big problem for the film is the fact that it is one of those cases of work which would be more appropriate for a different medium. I see 44 Inch Chest as more of a stage production, which I was so glad Kim Newman also took note of. Being an actorly piece, this would have given it great credibility on stage, but unfortunately as a film it fails to come across as convincingly as it might have on stage. Nevertheless, 44 Inch Chest boasts some great dialogue to let each of the actors involved in the production, particularly Winstone, McShane and Hurt, and a cracking score by Angelo Badalamenti and 3D (credited as 100 Suns), but is unfortunately an unbalanced and flawed piece.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired and disappointed

P.S. Note marketing has done the tremendous job of ballsing up the point of the film (and the alignment of actors face to actors names, a common but vaguely humorous quibble against marketing of mine) on the poster in order to try and make more money under the guise of a "Brit-gangster flick." Morons, sacrificing brains and dignity for The Almighty Dollar (in caps, because let's face it, it has become the official religion of the world). Make sure it doesn't stay that way. Peace out.


Jack's complete lack of surprise said...

See if you can find the 2006 BBC Sweeney Todd with Ray Winstone in the lead anywhere. It's a million times better than Burton's version, hands down. It might be the best performance I've ever seen Winstone give. A true masterpiece.

The Thin White Dude said...

Cheers man. See, I've watched the Burton Sweeney Todd and really like it. It's hard to imagine Ray Winstone in the part, although I have been proved wrong that many times regarding the man's talents that another time won't make too much of a difference. I'll check it out.