Movies: 44 Inch Chest * *
(18, limited release)
Although directed by feature-film debutante Malcolm Venville, 44 Inch Chest is a close relative of the 2000 gangster film Sexy Beast. It's written by the same team (Louis Mellis and David Scinto), and also stars Ray Winstone and Ian McShane.
However, where Sexy Beast brooded briefly before exploding into action, 44 Inch Chest is an altogether milder and more theatrical film. Its terrific cast of London hoodlums -- including McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane -- assemble in an East End safe house to rally around their friend Colin (Winstone), who is not in the best of form.
Colin's wife Liz (Joanne Whalley) has told him she's met someone else, and the big man has not taken it well. He and his friends promptly kidnap said loverboy, a French waiter, and stash him in a wardrobe to await his awful fate.
There are sparks of wit and even pithy Pinteresque dialogue as the gangsters decide what to do, but the film is overwritten and dramatically insubstantial, and squanders the talents of its impressive cast. If the shadow of Yasujiro Ozu looms heavily over Hirokazu Koreeda's Still Walking, that can surely be no bad thing. And while Koreeda's directorial style doesn't quite reach the master's classical compositional heights, there's more than a touch of Ozu's subtle and elegant storytelling to this intelligent family drama. Hiroshi Abe plays Ryota Yokoyama, a struggling art restorer who turns up with decidedly mixed feelings at the house of his elderly parents for Sunday lunch.
His warm if slightly sharp-tongued mother welcomes him and his partner with enthusiasm, but the father, a doctor, is taciturn, and we soon find out why. Some years before his favourite eldest son died in a tragic accident, and Ryota has been blamed for surviving. Ryota's sister arrives with her husband and kids, and as the afternoon unfolds much family laundry is aired.
Like the films of Ozu, Still Walking is primarily concerned with the tension betweeen the stiff and dutiful older generation, and the younger Japanese who feel constrained by their society's adherance to manners and protocol.
And as his story ebbs and flows, Koreeda shows considerable skill in avoiding the obvious tricks of film narrative and lets his characters fill us in on the dynamics of a family that might be from Tokyo but could be from anywhere.