44 Inch Chest
All that built up in my head to give me an idea that this was going to be Winstone playing a strong gangster role and with Hurt and McShane backing him up delivering a tough and gritty film with some similarly played characters.
It wasn't, and it actually brought something very different to the story I was expecting to see. 44 Inch Chest is much more thoughtful and considered than you might expect.
The first thing that has to be addressed about with 44 Inch Chest is the cast, it's utterly fantastic. Ray Winstone is one of my favourite British actors and he's backed by John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, Steven Berkoff, the excellent Ian McShane who had definitely redefined himself through the television series Deadwood and does the same again here, and Joanne Whalley who seems to have been away from our screens for far too long. You have to admit that just reeling off those names the cast is rather exciting.
Before I get to Ray Winstone let's look through those other names. Joanne Whalley doesn't appear for too long in the film but she's as engaging as I ever remember seeing her, and it does lead me to wonder why we haven't seen more of her in strong supporting and indeed leading roles. Stephen Dillane is good too, as is Tom Wilkinson, but there are two supporting names that really shine and one of them steals the film for me.
John Hurt delivers a great performance as the angry and disgruntled aging member of the group keen to get to the old ways, but it's Ian McShane that really delivers the best performance with easily the best character of the film. It seems that the character is perfect for him and yet a million miles from who you would expect. Not only does he have the best character but he also has some of the best lines as well and he delivers them with some great style and panache. McShane absolutely shines in his role and he commands the film, engaging you throughout.
The script doesn't just reserve its best for his character's dialogue though, there is some superbly scripted dialogue for many of the characters with a lot being delivered through the lines as well as directly in them.
Just to go back for a minute, I really should mention Ray Winstone who delivers another strong film performance; I mean when does he not? While I think that his character is much weaker than we might have expected from the story and from many of the ones he normally plays, he still delivers the performance really well. The way he plays his character through the more painful moments is very engaging particularly when he begins to realise what's happening around him. Yet for as strong as his performance is and as powerful as the actor is he does manage to play it rather underwhelming, which is good for the character we're watching here.
While I mentioned that the dialogue is really well written the story itself has highs and lows. I really enjoyed the flashbacks and how they were shown, especially the explanation of the events prior to everyone being in the deserted building which added a lot to the story, the main character, Whalley's character and also provided some great visuals to a film which is mostly holed up in one room.
There's also a great flashback scene between the characters played by McShane and Berkoff, the way Meredith's storytelling is merged with us seeing the actual story play out in flashbacks works really well and adds another dimension to the film. Again this is another well scripted scene that is also well directed and edited.
The direction of the film is strong, not just in keeping the audience engaged in the story in a single location but in the opening sequences and how they reveal the story. The opening sequences are very well done and grab you from the opening seconds, mixing the fragments of the room with the unusual choice of soundtrack. This is all wonderfully filmed and edited and I just wish that the reveal had been strung out a little longer and built a little better, as it is the reveal of the character in amongst the devastation is quite sudden, but it still remains a great sequence.
I did feel that there were a few anti-climactic moments where I felt the film had been building us towards something bigger than we are handed, this is most prominent at the end of the film but there are a few lesser moments on the way where the delivery fizzles a little. Some of these moments are carried forward by the story of the aging gangsters but others seem a little like missed opportunities.
As I said the ending does feel a little bit of a letdown, but at the same time it does provide for something away from the norm and the expected, keeping a little more towards the more personal and character based flow of the story.
That's what we mustn't forget; that the strength of this story is in the characters and the way their relationships are built and revealed, it isn't in the gangster story, old or new.
The Blu-ray picture carried a lot of detail and there were some great shots to fill the frame with plenty of space to allow the picture to tell some of the story. Sets were wonderfully lit with a nice colour to the film and there was a nice styling to the costumes of the characters. The film certainly does well on Blu-ray.
DTS 5.1 Master, Dolby Digital Stereo, Audio Description, English Subtitles
There's not that much for the audio to deliver considering almost all of the film is dialogue. There are a few scenes where there are more layers to the sound, much like the opening sequence itself, but to be honest you don't notice the audio as you get pulled into the dialogue of the room and the story.
Story Behind 44 Inch Chest; Up Close & Personal; Menu
Story Behind 44 Inch Chest
A nice behind the scenes piece that hears from all those involved with some rehearsal and on set footage. We get to hear from the director and all the stars of the film. It's a nice little piece to look into the production.
Up Close & Personal
For those that remember some of the marketing for the film these short pieces exploring some of the secondary characters through a short stage-like monologue are recognisable, they were released as teasers for the film and can be seen here, although surprisingly there's not that much of them and that's a shame.
The menu isn't usually something worth mentioning, but here it's a nice character based menu that doesn't feel like its continually repeating. You know Blu-ray menus are getting so repetitive these days it's nice to see something a little different.
44 Inch Chest is a good film and looks great on Blu-ray, however it does feel that it falls a little short of what it could have been and you could say it fails to utilise the talent it has available. You want it to move on, the story to develop a little further and some of the characters to get a little more involved, but it never happens the way you want it and so you are left with a slight anti-climactic feeling.
However, there's a great deal to be had from the film, not just the great performances from John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Joanne Whalley and most importantly the superb Ian McShane. They each have great roles and McShane some great dialogue, and by far the best part of the film is held in the opening sequence and the ongoing flashbacks to reveal the events that led to that moment.
The film is filled with style, even if the story doesn't play out and deliver as you might expect, my advice is to go in not expecting a film about ageing gangsters banding together for a final crime of passion, but more a group of friends who band together to try and turn around the life of one of their friends that has taken a sudden turn for the disastrous. If you do you'll discover a very good film with great performances, great scripting and some stylish cinematography and production design.