Thursday, January 28, 2010
KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando reviews 44 Inch Chest
The writers and star of “Sexy Beast” have re-teamed for “44 Inch Chest” (opening January 29 at Landmark's Ken Cinema). Both films cast Ray Winstone as an unlikely romantic stuck in a violent world.
Every now and then there are perfect moments in cinema. The opening of “44 Inch Chest” is one of them. As a schmaltzy Harry Nilsson song plays on the soundtrack the camera moves through the rubble of a room where a violent fight has obviously taken place. The contrast between the song and the images provides wicked irony. Then the camera finally lands on Colin (Ray Winstone), a man in the depths of despair. Colin’s wife of two decades has left him for a younger man. So his friends try to console him.
Meredith: "You listening to me you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve been wronged, you’re in the right, remember that. Now characters like that handsome young macho boy, characters like that will come along to test you, to make you doubt yourself, hate yourself, to turn your life upside down but it’s times like this, that you find out who you are."
And who Colin is at the moment is a shattered man. His despair over his wife’s betrayal is made no less tragic than that of Othello’s. This film does possess -- in its odd sort of working class way -- a Shakespearean sense of tragedy in Colin's character. He may be gruff and coarse but there's a touching and genuine tenderness struggling to get out. And his rant on what love is reveals a man who has truly loved his wife.
Colin: "And so what if you cook the dinner and get no thanks for it, don’t do it if you expect thanks that’s not why you do it. It’s the maintenance of a marriage the nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritty the reality that’s life, that’s love, it’s not easy nobody ever said it was going to be easy."
Okay, this is my kind of romantic movie because the romance is buried deep in the belly of an ugly beast, in this case revenge. Colin and his friends have kidnapped the wife’s lover and stuck him in a closet. Now they have to decide what to do with him.
Meredith: "I’d toss a coin. Heads I’d skin him alive, find her do the same."
Colin: "If it was tails?"
Meredith: "That’s the hard part Colin."
In a sense that’s where the film goes -- not to the easy resolution but to someplace harder. The surprise is that this proves to be a tale of redemption and forgiveness. There’s a surprising humanity under the film’s tough talking, violence prone surface. And while Colin’s friends hunger for blood and revenge, there’s also a sense of compassion and support for whatever decision he might make.
Meredith: "Listen to me you don’t disgust me you’re not pathetic, you’re not weak. You’re normal. You’re human and humans hurt, right?"
Right. But they also thirst for revenge. One friend demands a kind of Biblical wrath in response to the infidelity. A sin’s been committed and it must be punished, in an Old Testament sort of way. There’s even a long section cleverly quoting Cecil B. DeMille’s film “Samson and Delilah,” and both films come to the same conclusion. "It's all because of a woman!"
“44 Inch Chest” could be construed as misogynistic if it weren’t for Colin’s unwillingness to blame his wife or stop loving her.
Meredith: "That’s what makes you you, you’re more sharing stroke caring. Your capacity for love leaves you vulnerable. But you should be proud of that. Means you care."
Ian McShane is just one of the brilliant actors in this killer ensemble. Joining him are John Hurt (cursing a blue streak that is a delight), Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, and Joanne Whaley. These actors form a perfect ensemble. They make us believe that these men have long been friends despite some obvious differences. Together they work like a well oiled machine, every piece moving in perfect sync with the other. Watching these veterans play off each other is an absolute pleasure.
The dialogue and script have a certain theatricality to them with much of the film playing out in a single room. But with actors like McShane, Winstone, and Hurt delivering lines with razor sharp precision, what more could you possibly ask for? The dialogue comes from Louis Mellis and David Scinto, who also wrote “Sexy Beast.” They serve up such savage fun that you can’t help smiling with glee despite the grimness of the film. There's a poetry to their obscenity-laden dialogue.
The writers and director Malcom Venville give us a spin on the male buddy film. There's the emotional support and bonding you get in a Judd Apatow film as well as the violence and foul language of a Guy Ritchie flick. But Mellis, Scinto, and Venville put both those filmmakers to shame by kicking up the testosterone level, giving more edge to the dialogue, spinning the violence in surprising ways, strengthening the emotional bonds, and even adding a Biblical sense of morality to it all.
In addition to this being my idea of a romantic film, it also proves to be the perfect post-divorce catharsis. Okay so I brought some personal baggage to this film but damn if it didn't prove theraputic. Colin is a man who struggles with his anger over being betrayed and being left by his spouse. But he punches through his anguish and past his violence to find something almost transcendent. He makes a decision to move on and there's something in the resolution that I could identify with and find perversely uplifting.
“44 Inch Chest” already has a spot on my year’s top ten list, and it’ll be pretty hard to knock this seething beast of a film off its top perch.
Companion viewing: "Sexy Beast," "Gangster No. 1," "Unfaithfully Yours"