44 Inch Chest
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Image Entertainment.
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There is an interesting cinematic discourse to be had on the topic of the definition of manhood in the modern era versus the ideal of manhood as associated with the cinematic gangster male. The recipe for such a picture is as follows: take a cross-section of gangster-types with varying ages and romantic inclinations and throw them into an abandoned house, away from prying eyes, wherein one must prove his manhood by either killing or absolving his wife’s lover. And although 44 Inch Chest has all the makings for such an investigation of modern manhood, an unfortunate focus on 1990’s-style mobster monologuing and narrative side-stepping prevents the film from fulfilling its thematic potential.
The aforementioned recipe is indeed the setup of 44 Inch Chest with Ray Winstone as the cuckolded husband, locked in an abandoned house with his gangster friends played by John Hurt, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane backing him up in settling the score with his wife’s lover. This facet of the film is far more interesting than the plot allows it be though— that the cuckolded man must have moral support in order to deal with his romantic rival. And while this and the issues mentioned in the last paragraph are extremely intriguing and indeed present, the majority of the screen time is allotted for the individual gangsters to give one monologue each about their sexual conquests, anecdotes about the good old days and things to that effect. It’s all very forgettable. Exactly the sort of thing Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino’s films made especially popular in the early 90s, but became trite after a hundred or so other pictures jumped on the bandwagon and rode the technique into the ground. Moreover, 20 minutes or so of hallucinations draw us out of the reality of the story, and instead of adding psychological content, as the hallucinations appear intended for, they betray the filmmakers’ lack of confidence in their ability to tell a simple, cohesive and interesting story within the setting they’ve chosen.
Still, 44 Inch Chest is a very watchable film with terrific performances from a supremely talented, multiple award-winning cast as well as a captivatingly dark and tense atmosphere. And even though it falls short of dealing with the big thematic issues it is fully capable of, it still deals capably with issues of love and jealousy though in a far more muted and indirect way.
Special features on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases include an audio commentary with director Malcolm Venville, an interview with Venville, a making-of featurette, epilogues and the theatrical trailer.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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