Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Movie Review: 44 Inch Chest

44 Inch Chest ** ½
Directed by:
Malcolm Venville.
Written By: Louis Mellis & David Scinto.
Starring: Ray Winstone (Colin Diamond), John Hurt (Old Man Peanut), Ian McShane (Meredith), Tom Wilkinson (Archie), Stephen Dillane (Mal), Joanne Whalley (Liz), Melvil Poupaud (Loverboy).

There are not many movies that are better acted than 44 Inch Chest. This is a movie that has only seven real roles, but each one is played to perfection. The writing reminded me of a David Mamet play, where a group of people are stuck in one spot, and talk constantly – peppering their dialogue with liberal uses of the word fuck. (According to the IMDB, the word is used 162 in a 90 minute movie, and although I didn’t count, I think the word cunt is used just about as often). The actors are obviously enjoying themselves, delivering these lines. And yet, 44 Inch Chest never really goes anywhere. There is a lot of talk, and a lot of it is enjoyable to listen to, but the movie never actually does anything. It’s all talk, without a real point.

The movie centers of Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone), who is distraught and depressed because his wife Liz (Joanne Whalley) has informed him she is living him for another man. His four friends get an idea – they will kidnap the other guy, and hold him at one of those abandoned warehouses that are always so handy for characters in the movie, while Colin decides what he wants to do with him. They never mention what exactly it is they do for a living, but you assume they are some sort of criminals. Who else has time to hold up in a warehouse for two days, or even comes up with the idea of kidnapping and perhaps murdering your wife’s new lover?

Joining Colin at the warehouse are his four friends. Archie (Tom Wilkinson) still lives at home with his mother, but seems more calmly rational than the others. Meredith (Ian McShane), is the refined gay man in their midst, but is also most likely a psychopath. Old Man Peanut (John Hurt) is a racist, sexist, homophobic old man, constantly spouting off about being a man. And Mal (Stephen Dillane) is slightly more refined, but also doesn’t quite seem part of the group. At first they talk amongst themselves, then they move into the other room and talk to “Loverboy” (Melvil Poupaud), who sits there looking scared, and not uttering a word. When Liz shows up, they talk changes a little.

It is clear from the start that only some of what we are seeing is actually happening – other things are all in Colin’s mind. How much is fact and how much is fantasy is debatable, although the movie does make it clear that somethings are most definitely fantasy. It has been suggested by others that none of the other four male characters actually exist – that they are all apart of Colin’s mind, representing different parts of his personality. I am not convinced of that however, as they do seem to have lives outside of what they are doing there. I think it is more likely that these characters really do exist, whether or not they, or Loverboy for that matter, are actually at that warehouse with Colin.

All of the performances are wonderful. I have always like Winstone as an actor, and here he does a great job with the depressed Colin, particularly as the movie goes along, and he goes on his many monologues. I also enjoyed McShane going against type as Meredith. I feel safe in saying that after his stint on Deadwood, McShane has said the word cunt more times than any actor in history, but he is the one guy here who isn’t constantly swearing. He is comfortable being gay, and having everyone know it, and never lets himself get worked up. He is supremely calm throughout. John Hurt is a riot as Old Man Peanut, and the rest of the cast fills in nicely behind them.

At the end of the movie however, I was left with somewhat of a hollow feeling. I had spent the last 90 minutes watching actors at the top of their game, but felt the whole effort was wasted, because the filmmakers never really decide what it is that they are actually saying in the movie, or giving us a real reason to watch it. So yes, the film is well acted. And the dialogue is terrific. And the direction is quite good. But 44 Inch Chest never really adds up to anything.

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