Last night we headed to the BFI for the first time this year, for a preview of 44 Inch Chest - a new British film written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto (Sexy Beast) and starring Ray Winstone, alongside a top drawer cast: Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Stephen Dillane and Joanne Whalley.
The plot sounds simple (and geezerish) enough: Colin Diamond (Winstone) is a gruff car salesman whose world falls apart when his wife Liz (Whalley) announces that she's leaving him for a younger man. Urged on by his grizzly gang of mates, he kidnaps 'Loverboy' (Melvin Poupaud) and takes him to a derelict house. With his friends insisting that Loverboy has to die for what he's done, Col has a long dark night of the soul as he decides what to do
Although the trailer would have you think it's a bit of a laddish gangland romp, the film is actually much richer and stranger than that. Mostly confined to a single room, the plot is minimal: Colin has to decide whether or not to kill Loverboy.
However, through a combination of flashback, hallucination and a typically committed performance from Ray Winstone, the film goes into Colin's mind to vividly depict the psychic disintegration that he suffers after Liz drops her bombshell.
The script - and, by extension, the film - are more about texture than plot. The profane banter that flies around between the blokes has a rich musical rhythm, especially when delivered by such a talented cast, even if some of the anecdotes and exchanges seem a bit tangental. When Colin's mates are berating the unlucky Loverboy, it feels a lot like Pinter's The Birthday Party, when the gangsters interrogate Stanley.
The film is billed as a provocative look at masculinity, but I didn't see much in the characters that relates to my life. In the Q&A afterwards, Ray Winstone said that he saw it very much as a love story; like Othello, the broken Col maintains that his biggest fault was that he loved Liz too much (although that doesn't prevent him from giving her a brutal beating when she attempts to leave).
It's an interesting film, full of captivating performances and shot with a real photographer's eye by director Malcolm Venville (making his feature debut) and cinematographer Daniel Landin. However, it might fall between two stools commercially. If an audience turns up expecting a Lock, Stock-style geezercom, they might be alienated by the intimate nature of the film and find its conclusion a bit anti-climactic.
Along with Ray Winstone, the Q&A afterwards was attended also attended by John Hurt and co-writer David Scinto. It'll turn up on BFI Live soon enough, so I won't go through it blow by blow.
The most interesting thing from a screenwriting perspective was David Scinto's statement that they focus on characters when they write, so they can attract top-class actors who really want to get their teeth into the material. Then, once the acting talent has shown an interest, the film becomes a much easier sell to financiers and producers.
Looking at the casts they attracted to Sexy Beast and 44 Inch Chest, you'd have to say it's a strategy that's paid off.
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