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HTF Blu-ray Review: 44 INCH CHEST
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Posted April 19 2010 - 12:25 PM
44 Inch Chest (Blu-ray)
Studio: Image Entertainment
Film Length: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
Disc Format: 1 25 GB
Theatrical Release Date: Jan. 15, 2010
Blu-ray Release Date: Apr. 20, 2010
Both the writers and two of the stars are from Sexy Beast, and they’ve recruited co-stars who are every bit their equal. There’s even a ranting, evil bastard called “Old Man Peanut”, who’s as unrelenting as Sexy Beast’s implacable Don Logan, and he’s played by John Hurt, who can easily give Ben Kingsley a run for his money when it comes to portraying a psychopath.
So why isn’t the film nearly as good? I blame the director.
As the film opens, Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) is lying on the floor amidst the wreckage of what used to be his happy home. Colin is a big man, a man whose chest probably measures 44 inches or more. Who or what has laid him out so thoroughly? The answer is provided by Harry Nilsson’s doleful anthem, “Without You”, which is blasting on the soundtrack. It’s a woman. It’s his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), who has announced that she’s met someone and is leaving him.
We never learn exactly what Colin does, but he’s some sort of small time thug. Like most such characters, he has friends, and they’re who he calls in his hour of need. They’re a colorful lot. There’s Archie (Tom Wilkinson), a middle-aged man who still lives with his mum. There’s Mal (Stephen Dillane), taut, razor-sharp and the perfect man if a bit of violence needs doing. There’s Old Man Peanut (John Hurt), who is, as his name suggests, an old school villain who’s constantly ranting about how these damn youngsters just don’t know how to kill a man properly anymore. (Hurt has described Old Man Peanut as an “untreated psychotic”.) And finally there’s Meredith (the incomparable Ian McShane), a proudly out and flamboyant gay man for whom life is a buffet of entertainment, and murder is just another entree.
Colin’s buddies abduct the man who they think has turned Liz’s head, a young Frenchman identified only as “Lover Boy” (Melvil Poupaud), and take him to a deserted flat somewhere in East London so that Colin can deal with him.
And that’s where 44 Inch Chest goes off the rails.
Anyone who remembers Sexy Beast knows that screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto write interesting characters and memorable dialogue. 44 Inch Chest is no exception. Colin Diamond and his scoundrel support group are vivid guys who speak a memorable patois that’s part David Mamet and part Quentin Tarantino, if both had been born in the East End of London. But Mellis and Scinto have a nasty habit of leaving the details of their plots vague, which means their scripts need a strong directorial hand to maintain narrative focus. Director Malcolm Venville was helming his first feature after working on commercials, and he’s no match for a script with a tricky narrative structure and a bunch of powerhouse actors, who, as the extras on the disc make clear, were clearly in love with their dialogue and two of whom (Winstone and McShane) had nurtured the project for years.
Once Colin and his crew get into that apartment with Lover Boy (who is locked in an armoire for much of the film) and begin their seemingly endless conversations, we spend a long time trying to figure out what 44 Inch Chest is about. Is it about Colin’s relation with his friends? Is it about his marriage? Is it about a case of mistaken identity? It doesn’t help that the story is full of flashbacks and hallucinations, and by the time we’ve figured out what’s real and what isn’t (and what really happened to Liz Diamond), a lot of what we’ve seen turns out not to be essential to the story, or even very important.
Take just a single example. At one point, Meredith tells a story about a recent night out on the town with Tippi Gordon (Steven Berkoff, who played memorable villains in Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo). We get the whole scene, complete with Meredith’s lively narration, which Ian McShane provides with his ripest and most engaging delivery. It’s entertaining as hell, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the story. It’s a classic instance of a scene that should have been cut during editing, but can you imagine a young director, grateful for the gig, telling the legendary Ian McShane (not just a star, but also one of the film’s executive producers), “Sorry, one of your best scenes has to go”?
Like a number of recent productions, 44 Inch Chest seems to have been photographed with the intent to make the image look as much like video as film possibly can. The image is so smooth, sharp and clean that initially I thought it had been photographed on hi-def. But the image was originated on film, and the Blu-ray presents it with excellent detail, including in shadows, which is essential for the many scenes staged in dim interiors. Black levels are solid, and colors are well-presented, although most of the film has a limited pallette that could best be characterized as urban grime. For the occasional scene set elsewhere (e.g., the Diamond home in better times), the colors are brighter and more vivid.
Noise reduction was obviously applied on the digital intermediate, but it did not result in motion artifacts or loss of detail.
The soundtrack of 44 Inch Chest is functional. You get sounds corresponding to actions on screen (a car passing, breaking glass, the strike of a lighter, etc.), but not a lot in the way of environment or ambiant noise. The chief components are the dialogue and the moody score by Angelo Badalamenti (David Lynch’s preferred composer), supplemented by 100 Suns. The DTS lossless track reproduces the score with a full sense of presence and presents the dialogue with admirable clarity.
Since the film is set in London’s East End, anyone unaccustomed to the regional accent may need to consult the English subtitles from time to time (though I did not).
The video for all special features appears to be standard definition, but it’s enhanced for 16:9 and fills the screen.
Commentary by Director Malcolm Venville. Venville is not a lively commentator, and he frequently falls into the trap of narrating the action on screen. He’s clearly still overawed by the rarefied company in which he found himself on his first feature film, and one never gets the sense that he connected to the script at anything beyond a technical level.
Featurette (15:20). Interviews with Venville, the producers, the cast and crew trace the history of the film from its origins during the making of Sexy Beast through a long history of development and eventual production. The cast are shown both in rehearsal and on set, and all of the principal actors offer insights into their characters. It is evident that this was an actor-driven project.
Epilogues (4:40). In the best feature on the disc, each of the characters played by Hurt, McShane, Wilkinson and Dillane addresses the camera in a short monologue about what happened to them after the events of the film. It’s never explained whether these stories were originally intended to be part of the narrative or were written as an afterthought, but they’re wonderful anecdotes and delivered with flair.
Interview with Malcolm Venville (22:56). The interview covers much of the same ground as the commentary, with additional emphasis on Venville’s education and background in photography and commercial work.
Trailer. A case study in how rapid editing can create a false impression, this trailer suggests a high-energy thriller, which 44 Inch Chest most certainly isn’t.
There are things to enjoy in 44 Inch Chest. It features some of the best British actors working today wrapping their tongues around juicy dialogue. Just don’t expect it to add up to much.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub