44 INCH CHEST
When his wife Liz (Joanne Whalley) tells Colin (Ray Winstone) that she's met someone else, isn't happy in their marriage and is leaving him, Colin explodes and beats her, but then sinks into profound pain and loses his bearings. A small group of his close friends - Mal (Stephen Dillane), Meredith (Ian McShane), Archie (Tom Wilkinson) and Old Man Peanut (John Hurt) - kidnap 'Loverboy' (Melvil Poupaud), the young French waiter who has cuckolded Colin and take him to a derelict house where they imprison him in a cupboard so that Colin can have his revenge and reassert his manhood.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The filmmakers say they intend 44 Inch Chest to be "provocative, outrageously profane and surprisingly tender amidst an explosion of unbridled testosterone..." but they haven't made that film. It plays more like a filmed play that creakily combines naturalism with cinematic theatricality and the characters don't quite ring true, despite the calibre of the cast. The writing gives them suitably macho postures - except for the quietly gay Meredith (Ian McShane) - and anecdotes to recite.
The constriction of most of the action (such action as there is amidst all the talk) in a single derelict room is not the problem. Other films, like 12 Angry Men, succeed in making such a setting work in their favour. The problem stems from the absence of any real world context for the characters and the central story device of marital breakdown. We don't see anything of the relationship except for the time that Colin (Ray Winstone) arrives home one evening with a bunch of flowers and chocolates only to be told his wife (Joanne Whalley) is leaving for another man. Consequently, Colin has to tell us, repeatedly, how much he loves her and how much she's hurt him. This makes his extreme physical hysteria only minimally effective emotionally.
The title suggests an exploration of the macho notion of masculinity, and while the theme filters through, it is less than satisfying; the film also lacks layers, making it a one-note movie with the odd flash of wit - mostly driven by the excess of profanities. The characters display old fashioned macho bravado and encourage Colin to take his revenge, kill Loverboy (Melvile Poupaud) and Colin's wife, and thus rescue his tattered manhood. But much of the language they use (I don't mean the profanities) is oddly out of character for them all except perhaps for the cool, sophisticated and superior Meredith.
Old Man Peanut (John Hurt) even tells the group the story of Samson and Delilah, copiously illustrated with clips from the 1949 Cecil B. de Mille movie starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr; this from a foulmouthed sourpuss who would no more quote movies than Shakespeare. Meredith, maybe; after all, he admits to having fancied Mature.
Individually and taken as self-contained works, each performance is engaging and enjoyable, but the end result of the film's flaws is that it plays like a workshop for writers, actors and director, in which the craftwork and techniques can be exercised at full volume and without the restraint of a live audience.
First published in the Sun Herald
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44 INCH CHEST (MA)
CAST: Ian McShane, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Tom Wilkinson, Joanne Whalley, Dave Legeno, Stephen Dillane, Melvil Poupaud
PRODUCER: Richard Brown, Steve Golin
DIRECTOR: Malcolm Venville
SCRIPT: Louise Mellis, David Scinto
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dan Landin
EDITOR: Rick Russell
MUSIC: Angelo Badalamenti
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Stevenson
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 29, 2010
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