Image Entertainment // 2009 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 8th, 2010
The measure of revenge.
"I want you dead. I think you owe me that. I do. Because that's what you've done to me. You've #&@%ing killed me."
Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone, Ripley's Game) is a broken man. His wife (Joanne Whalley, The Singing Detective) told him that she was in love with another man. Colin responded to this news very badly, initially breaking down in tears and then violently beating his wife. She manages to get away, but Colin isn't done. He has his wife's lover (Mevil Poupaud, Speed Racer) hunted down, tied up and thrown into a closet. Now he just has to decide what to do next.
Colin is aided in this decision-making process by a handful of violent friends: the cheerful Archie (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton), the sly Meredith (Ian McShane, Deadwood), the low-key Mal (Stephen Dillane, John Adams) and the angry Old Man Peanut (John Hurt, The Proposition). Colin's friends think that the only reasonable thing to do is give the man in the closet a slow and painful death, but Colin isn't so sure. As he reflects on the events of the past and examines his own soul, what decision will this grieving criminal make?
44 Inch Chest is technically about a sad, violent man attempting to make an important decision, but it's really about the pleasure of seeing great actors do their thing. A rather simple premise is used as a springboard for a series of colorful, juicy, profane monologues delivered by a group of men who clearly relish the opportunity to find some material they can really sink their teeth into. The film falls just short of the profundity it reaches for, but I was able to forgive that transgression since it had so successfully provided such a flavorful opportunity to watch these actors doing what they do best.
Ray Winstone turns in some very effective work in the central role of Colin Diamond, a man who comes across as a big old murderous teddy bear. Diamond is a bad man, but he's also a very sentimental one with intensely deep feelings. He slips into melancholy with greater ease than any of his friends; something accentuated by the fact that he's in the middle of a painful time in his life. One can't really like Colin considering the horrible manner in which he treated his wife after finding out about her affair, but try not to empathize with him at least a little when he tells his side of the story. For years and years, he showered her with love and affection, but that love was never really reciprocated. Colin seemingly worshiped this woman, but the idea of her in the arms of another man seems such an unbearable conclusion to their relationship after all those years. "I just love too much, that's my problem," he sobs.
John Hurt is darkly hilarious in the role of Old Man Peanut, a man so wildly angry, racist, homophobic and vile that you can't help but laugh at just how absurdly horrible he is. "Good boy!" he proclaims enthusiastically when Winstone sadly confesses to having hit his wife. The film is full of foul-mouthed dialogue, but Hurt puts pretty much everyone else to shame in that department with his ceaseless barrage of f-words and c-words spewed out in that bitterly hoarse manner.
Standing in direct contrast is Ian McShane's Meredith, a man so smooth he gets his own musical theme (a sultry jazz piece that slinks around whenever he enters a scene...no other character is afforded such treatment). Meredith is a carefree, charismatic gay man who observes the proceedings with a sort of detached amusement. McShane has so much fun the role, purring his way through his lines and perpetually sporting a sly grin. It's easily the best role McShane has gotten since the conclusion of Deadwood (where he masterfully portrayed the villainous Al Swearengen).
Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane are both excellent, but they play less striking characters that have a tendency to defer to Meredith or Old Man Peanut on most matters. They have the complicated but less showy task of enhancing the flamboyant performances of their co-stars with well-timed facial reactions, interjections and exclamations. Joanne Whalley doesn't have much to do in her small part (this is very much a male-driven affair), while Mevil Poupaud spends most of his screen time sitting in a chair silently and looking appropriately terrified.
Even though this is a talky affair that feels very much like a filmed play (it's not; the screenplay is an original creation courtesy of Sexy Beast writers Louis Mellis & David Schinto), there are a few distinctly cinematic moments courtesy of director Malcolm Venville (making his feature debut). There's one memorable scene in which Hurt recalls the glories of watching the 1949 Samson and Delilah, as his colorful monologue plays over clips from the film. A lengthier sequence late in the film finds Winstone slipping into fantasy, as his surroundings start to look increasingly strange and dream-like (much of this is underscored with Herrmannesque brooding by composer Angelo Badalamenti).
I was surprised by just what a terrific transfer this film has received, as I didn't really expect a low-budget production like this to look great, but does it ever. Detail is nothing short of amazing throughout, particularly in terms of facial detail (a good-thing considering the many close-up shots contained within the dialogue-driven flick). The darker scenes (and there are a lot of them) look fantastic, with superb shadow delineation and depth. Audio is also solid, though there's a lot less going on in this department. The somewhat spare score comes through with clarity and is well-distributed throughout the speaker system, but there aren't any moments that are really going to knock you out. Even so, the track's about as good as one could expect it to be under the circumstances. Supplements include an audio commentary with Venville, an EPK-style making-of featurette (15 minutes), an interview with Venville (22 minutes, condensing a lot of the thoughts from the commentary into a more manageable chat), some unused epilogues (5 minutes) and a trailer.
Despite a valiant attempt, the emotional catharsis we are meant to experience at the end of the film just doesn't work. It's tough to impose a lot of deep feeling into a film so dominated by macho posing, and the gravity of the final moments doesn't stick despite Winstone's tremendously persuasive performance. Additionally, the film starts to lag a bit during the final 20 minutes or so, as if the writers were somewhat awkwardly attempting to figure out exactly how to wrap up the glorious display they had offered. In other words, the film fails to be more than the sum of its parts.
I enjoyed 44 Inch Chest immensely despite its flaws, but then I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. If you're the sort of person who likes these actors, British gangster flicks and David Mamet movies, you'll probably find this film a perverse delight. Others should proceed with caution, as the film is admittedly filled with unpleasant characters, ceaseless swearing and a somewhat unsatisfying finish. Maybe you should just take a cue from Colin and flip a coin.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R