Thursday, April 22, 2010

DVDebut: Don't miss Malcolm Venville's sleeper 44 INCH CHEST

When Sexy Beast appeared a decade back, and the raves -- mostly for Ben Kingsley's over-
the-top performance -- started coming, it was perhaps too easy to overlook the supporting work of actors Ray Winstone and Ian McShane and the screen-
writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto. Now, a relatively new director to movies named Malcolm Venville (shown below), with his first full-length film 44 INCH CHEST, also written by Mellis and Scinto, takes us back to what initially looks like the mob milieu of Sexy Beast but is actually a much more sophisticated and surprising location: the human mind, body and soul.

This interior/exterior belongs to another criminal type, a fellow named Colin Diamond,  played by Mr. Winstone.  He is this time surrounded by a pack of pals that include McShane (again), joined by Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane and John Hurt. Male ensembles don't get much better than this, and the cast delivers every juicy line of dialog, every smile, frown and curse, as though we'd never seen nor heard a bit of it until now.  The story  involves Colin's wife, who has just told him she must leave him for another man.  Winstone runs the gamut in the next few moments.  And then all hell breaks loose.

As TrustMovies recalls (having read a portion of some of the reviews at the time of the film's limited release: mid-January 2010), mention was made of Sexy Beast and of the plot outline and the vicious and bloody goings-on, with the critical assessment more thumbs down than up and box-office results following suit. (Films like this need critical boosting if they are to take off at all.   Even then, few do.)  Now that TM has finally seen the film, he's mildly appalled at the misapprehension of what is basically a psychological love/hate story about a rather typical British gangster-type upended and then redeemed by coming to terms with his situation and feelings.

Mr. Venville and his writers flash back and forth -- not only between then and now but between reality and fantasy.  The consistency is maintained via the actors, all of whom nail their characters and maintain their through-line, thus holding the film together quite well and allowing its audience to know where we are at any time.  This also enables us to forgive what could be some difficult-to-believe moments, such as a kidnapping in a restaurant (the beginning of which is shown above, with Misters Hurt and McShane) that proves as funny as it is scary.

Just how much of the film is fantasy and how much reality is never quite clear, nor does it need to be.  The whole thing -- once the event that sets the plot in motion is established -- could be going on only in the mind of our protagonist.  Still, fantasy or reality, the movie needs to be brought to life, and here Venville and his cast deliver in spades.  As the wife, Joanne Whalley (above), an actress we see far too seldom anymore, is as alluring as ever.  Even with an added decade and little more weight, she's still a knockout: sexy, gorgeous and able to command the screen whenever she appears.  (When will they transfer to DVD one of this woman's great early films, the British TV piece Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?  What a wonderful work that is!)

And as her new paramour, French actor Melvil Poupaud (shown above, left, with Mr Winstone), without (unless I'm mistaken) one word of dialog, is still impressive.  You root for him against all hope.  The rest of that cast is splendid.  Hurt, as a homophobic but sexless senior has some of the saltiest dialog heard in ages ("cunt" is tossed about more often here than I can remember, and each rendition outdoes the last); Wilkinson, who takes good care of his aging mum, adds yet another wonderful character to his gallery of them; Dillane, the youngest and best-looking of the bunch, makes prime use of this, leaving us always a tad off-balance; and McShane -- as an unapologetic gay who's always on the make -- is a delight.

Yet it's Winstone, with the help of the writers and director, who holds it all together, and he gives perhaps his most memorable performance.  Even if this is all some kind of fantasy, if one can fantasize redemption -- if one can imagine it -- then it must be possible, no? I think the placing of a bloody, wounded hand upon the head of our "hero," in an act of love or grace, somehow guarantees this.  See what you make of it; in fact, see what you make of this whole chilling, funny, sad thing.

Don't miss the DVD extra in which the director talks about the film. Mr. Venville is one of the least full-of-himself filmmakers I have witnessed, and everything he has to say here rings true and is extremely interesting.  Out this week on DVD, 44 Inch Chest has proven my biggest and most pleasurable surprise of the year so far.  As you can probably tell, I heartily recommend it.

No comments: