44 Inch Chest - Blu-ray Review

'a theoretical deconstruction of masculinity, rather than the celebration of overt gangsterism it first appears to be'

Although marketed as being from 'the writers of Sexy Beast', 44 Inch Chest has more in common with an experimental theatre production than with the Jonathan Glazer directed gangster thriller. Given the cast involved and the re-assembled writing team of Louis Mellis and David Scinto comparisons were inevitable but what really plays out during Malcolm Venville's film is a theoretical deconstruction of masculinity, rather than the celebration of overt gangsterism that Glazer's film proved to be.

That said, it doesn't mean that 44 Inch Chest doesn't move in the same universe. Mellis and Scinto's script is full of the familiar colourful language that became such a feature of Sexy Beast. At times, it is also similarly brutal and the treatment of the kidnap victim who has slept with irate Col's (Ray Winstone) wife (Joanne Whalley) is as harsh as one would expect when you gather Winstone and assorted other hoodlums in a derelict flat.

For all its blood and hard-nut posturing though, Venville's film has a soft centre. Its hinted at right from the start, Col lying on the floor motionless as Harry Nilsson's Without You plays loudly on his stereo, hardly the typical record of choice for the garden variety barrel-chested gangster. As the film progresses each character is shown, to various degrees, to not be all they seem to be on first glance. Archie (Tom Wilkinson) lives with his Mum. Meredith (Ian McShane) espouses on the benefits of free love and lack of attachment but obviously values the company of the rest of the group. Whalley, as the sole female character, is shown to have a vice-like grip and influence over practically every character. For a film that seems so upfront about its male-orientation, its gender politics are far from simple.

Despite the great performances, well-constructed script and fantastic look (Daniel Landin's photography is awards-worthy), 44 Inch Chest falls down due to its inability to go anywhere. It's not that Venville doesn't try to take us above and beyond the squalid main interior but his solution (a quasi-dream sequence which takes up much of the second half) is unsuccessful and poorly realised, detracting from the character types that the director has already established and begun to play with. As theatre experiment, its a successful look at masculinity writ large but as a feature film its only a semi-satisfying stab by some great actors at turning a mediocre plot into something much more meaty.

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'a contender for the year’s sharpest, wittiest bit of noir' - Movie Mobsters, 3/4

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