44 Inch Chest, Malcolm Venville, 95 mins, (18)
Still Walking, Hirokazu Koreeda, 114 mins, (U)
From sexy to psycho – what a difference a decade makes
Sunday 17 January 2010
It's been 10 years since Sexy Beast convinced us that the chap who played Gandhi was dangerous enough to terrify Ray Winstone, but it's only now that we're finally seeing another film from the same writers, Louis Mellis and David Scinto.
Watch 44 Inch Chest, and you can just about understand why it's taken so long. First, because the dialogue contains more swearing than a Viz annual. And second, because the swearing is the best thing in it.
Winstone has the starring role once again, this time playing – what else? – a cockney geezer with a criminal past. As in Sexy Beast, he's fat, contented and blissfully married until a metaphorical boulder crashes into his metaphorical swimming pool. His wife, Joanne Whalley, tells him that she's leaving him for another man – a French waiter, just to add insult to injury. With quite a few insults and injuries of their own in mind, four of Winstone's demonic friends kidnap the waiter and stuff him in a wardrobe in a boarded-up house. The next night they all return. There's the wiry, quietly vicious Stephen Dillane. There's Ian McShane, who's as suave and camp as a raised eyebrow. There's John Hurt, who can't stop frothing about the old days, when men were men and psychos were psychos. And there's Tom Wilkinson, who would seem to be a gentle soul if he weren't a killer. Making the Reservoir Dogs look like puppies, they've gathered to help Winstone to decide what to with the wardrobed waiter: kill him quickly, kill him slowly, or let him go.
The script was conceived for the stage, and Malcolm Venville, the first-time director, hardly bothers to disguise its origins: flashbacks and hallucinations aside, the whole film consists of five men sitting around and talking in one room and one corridor. To begin with, though, that doesn't matter – not when the talking is as fabulously profane as it is in 44 Inch Chest. Mellis and Scinto's florid dialogue is so chock-full of gobsmacking expletives, fruity slang and ornate analogies that it's no wonder the actors savour it. It's reminiscent of Mamet and Pinter, as well as Messrs Tarantino and Ritchie, but more than any of them, the tongue-twisting repetitions and bouncing rhythms reminded me of Dr Seuss. Imagine The Cat in the Hat with Tourette's syndrome and you're almost there.
But those speeches are the equivalent of the explosions and car crashes in a mindless action movie: they may be exhilarating in and of themselves, but if they aren't integral to the plot, then their sound and fury don't signify very much. The crux of 44 Inch Chest is Winstone's dilemma, and none of his mates' anecdotes and arguments have any bearing on this dilemma, largely because Winstone is so dazed by heartbreak that he's barely aware of them as they rant and rave around him. When he eventually comes to his decision, it hasn't been influenced by the others at all, which is why the film is so unsatisfying. The problem isn't that it consists of five men sitting around and talking. The problem is that it consists of one man sitting down and having a think.
Anyone who visited relatives this Christmas, or was visited by them, will see themselves in Still Walking, a delicate, devastating Japanese tragicomedy set at a family get-together. The hosts are a retired couple who live in a small coastal town, and the guests are their son, inset right, and daughter and assorted spouses and children, including the son's new wife and stepson. They're all there to commemorate a third sibling who died saving a boy from drowning over a decade earlier.
In contrast with whichever Hollywood film might spring to mind, there's no crisis, no cathartic shouting, and no reconciliatory hugging. On the surface, it's an uneventful and ultimately pleasant day of meals and strolls, recorded with unobtrusive camerawork and adorned with lilting music. And yet there's always something going on. Whether the family is chatting about death or recipes for grilled radishes, every line and look discloses another deception, resentment, fear or regret. The shot of a fortysomething man noticing the new handrail in his parents' bathroom is a more poignant image of ageing, and how it affects different generations, than in a dozen Oscar-nominated dramas. If, this year, you only see one two-hour drama from Japan where nothing happens, make it Still Walking.
Also Showing: 17/01/2010
The Book of Eli (118 mins, 15)
Another week, another post-apocalyptic wasteland. This week, Denzel Washington tramps through the desert, being careful not to bump into anyone from The Road, Carriers, Zombieland, et al. If it weren't so slow and portentous, it might have been trashy fun.
Crude (105 mins)
Yet more post-apocalyptic wasteland, as this fly-on-the-wall documentary takes us to Ecuador's rainforest, contaminated by billions of gallons of spilt petrol and toxic waste.
All About Steve (101 mins, 12A)
A rom-com that's all about a ditzy crossword compiler (Sandra Bullock) soon becomes a farce that's all about a bumbling news team. After that, no one seems sure what it's about.
0SS 117: Lost in Rio (101 mins, 15)
French spy spoof starring the Steve Cooganish Jean Dujardin as a numbskulled secret agent. Much less funny than the previous OSS 117 film.
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