The final season of 'Lost' involves a "sideways" world. An alternate dimension where our characters slip in and out of their own personas while establishing completely different (but somehow connected) lives.
Why am I bringing up television's knottiest prime time drama? Well, because, in a weird way, I feel like '44 Inch Chest,' a newly released British gangster picture, is kind of the sideways version of 'Sexy Beast.' (Or at least its karmic sequel.)
The film opens with Ray Winstone, more svelte than he was in 'Sexy Beast's' immortal opening shots, lying on his back in a destroyed apartment. "Without You" by Harry Nilsson blares over the soundtrack (although, lets be honest, it just reminds us of 'To Die For,' which used the song even better). A dog cowers underneath a chair. We're really not sure what happened, exactly, and whether or not Winstone is dead (he's not). But it's a hell of an opening, with a whip smart combination of images, editing, and music, and it's a sequence one that does much to pique our interest (and sets the tone for the movie to follow).
The rest of '44 Inch Chest' isn't quite as compelling, but it's still worth watching, somewhere between a traditional British gangster movie (it was written by the same blokes who penned 'Sexy Beast' and the less successful 'Gangster No. 1') and a Shakespearean drama.
It seems that Ray Winstone had his heart broken. So he wrangles his wife's new lover (wonderful French actor Melvil Poupaud, simply called Loverboy in the closing credits), with the help of four of his underworld goon friends, and have a chat with him. A chat that is frequently peppered with violence and often involves profanity.
Winstone's four friends are a who's who of British talent – Tom Wilkinson as a sweetheart of a man who still lives with his mother and serves as the group's voice of reason; John Hurt as the old school bad ass (his views on homosexuality are particularly outdated and hilarious); speaking of homosexuality there's Ian McShane as a velvety gay gangster (again, this seems to be riffing on his 'Sexy Beast' character who had similar inclinations); and Stephen Dillane as the young pup in the group, who also may have had a thing for Winstone's sexy wife (Joanne Whalley).
The dialogue has the staccato rhythm of a lesser David Mamet play, which is fitting because most of the action takes place in a sparsely furnished room in some shutdown, industrial waste part of town (it could have taken place next door to the British thriller 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed,' currently playing the Tribeca Film Festival) and feels, very much, like an unimaginatively photographed play.
The director of '44 Inch Chest' (its vaguely porn-ish title refers to the armoire they keep Loverboy in) is Malcolm Venville, up until this point a photographer and music video director. He lacks the peppy virtuosity (and sheer brilliance) of 'Sexy Beast's' Jonathan Glazer (or even the audacity of 'Gangster No. 1's Paul McGuigan), but it isn't a completely leaden affair. The flourishes really twinkle. In one flashback sequence, McShane's character talks to the camera like Ferris Beuller, and the entire movie, even in its most starkly realized sequences, has a kind of hypnotic beauty. It may not exactly be mesmerizing, but it's strange enough to keep your attention throughout the duration.
At some point you realize that for all it's cursing and all its violence and all of its swaggering misogyny (which you can't really tell if it’s a put on or not), this movie is actually a very sweet tale, about a man who has had his heart broken. '44 Inch Chest' may not succeed in every regard, but it's at least worth one watch, especially since it teaches us that gangsters have feelings too. Even in the sideways world.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The single-sided 25GB Blu-ray disc automatically plays but halts at the menu screen. It is Region A locked.
The 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer (maintaining its full bodied 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio) is fairly solid. I mean, this isn't a movie that demands the sharpest of presentations, I suppose.
There isn't a whole lot of color here, with a muted, dusty color palette that fits the movie's central theme of heartsick decay (and its central location, of the half-knocked-down building). Things are overall quite clear, with nice skin tones, inky blacks, and fine details, most noticeably on the gangsters' costumes and the gangsters' faces.
There is a healthy (but not overwhelmingly so) amount of grain, and no buggy technical issues to speak of. It's workmanlike, much like the movie itself. It gets the job done, but you aren't exactly going to be singing its praises after its done.
The disc's sole track is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that, much like the film's presentation, is pretty much "just the facts ma'am."
This is a dialogue heavy film, so much of the track is very front and center. Still, things always sound crisp and clear, which is no small feat given some of the more marble-mouthed accents (John Hurt, I'm looking in your direction).
Additionally, the musical score, a unique collaboration between David Lynch mainstay Angelo Badalamenti and trip hop band Massive Attack, sounds wonderful on this mix. Intricate and interesting, it adds to the somewhat hypnotic power of the movie that I couldn't put my finger on before.
The movie is punctuated by moments of violence, which are represented here very well, with a combination of well placed surround moments and effects. Still, this isn't a very meaty track by any stretch of the imagination. It does its job fairly well.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the lone audio track (besides the director's commentary – more on that in a minute), but there are subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
There's a nice, if small, collection of extras on this disc. Some you can skip in favor of others, other stuff you can skip all together. All special features are also present on the single disc DVD equivalent. No exclusives here, folks.
There's an undeniable power to '44 Inch Chest,' but one that's probably only worth a rental (just to see all these great actors doing their gangster thing). With adequate AV and a small collection of so-so extras, this isn’t a Blu-ray that you should go out of your way to secure. That said, as an off kilter look at broken hearts, you could probably do worse. Give it a rent before adding it to your collection.