It's not if Ray Winstone will kill Melvin Poupaud...
44 Inch Chest
Directed by Malcolm Venville
Starring Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson and John Hurt
Goes well with: Sexy Beast, Face, Mona Lisa
Memo to young, good-looking French waiters: If you absolutely must sleep with a married English woman, make sure she isn't married to a barrel-chested, emotional gangster. Because if you're not careful, it's entirely possible the gangster's friends will kidnap you, beat you up and lock you in a cabinet before leaving you alone with said barrel-chested, emotional gangster, who must decide not if he should kill you, but how he should kill you.
This is one memo Loverboy (Melvil Poupaud), a young, good-looking French waiter who appears in the new film 44 Inch Chest, most certainly did not get. If he had, it's likely he would never have dallied with Liz (Joanne Whalley), a lovely, middle-aged woman who's become disenchanted with her husband, Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone). But he didn't (get the memo), and he did (dally with Liz), and, sadly for him, Colin's no one to trifle with. That's why we spend the bulk of Malcolm Venville's directorial debut sorting out the emotional toll Colin's wife's tryst has had on him and whether it'll push him to the point of killing her young lover.
And, largely, that's the biggest problem with 44 Inch Chest. It's a character study that's all about, um, deciding. Yes, the film has a superb cast of hard-boiled, hard-bitten gangster types, and it's written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, the guys who penned Sexy Beast, one of the best of the British gangster-film genre. But very little actually happens in the movie, aside from the top-notch acting of Winstone and Co.
Colin is egged on by Archie (Tom Wilkinson), Mal (Stephen Dillane), Meredith (Ian McShane) and Old Man Peanut, a diminutive little shit who's as profane as they come despite his natty dress and shriveled stature. He's played by the legendary John Hurt, who hasn't had a part this meaty in years. And though Peanut is a nasty misogynist, he's in good company. Archie is a milquetoast who still lives with his mother, Mal is a player and Meredith, a gay, fey gambler, who, despite his sense of style and poise, is so emotionally detached that sex is just a form of domination and recreation to him.
These are all tough guys, weathered and tense, but each is doing an entirely different take on the gangster we've seen him play before, especially Sexy Beast alumni Winstone and McShane.
Colin's friends just want him to finish off the young man so they can go do some real crime. But it's not that easy. Colin may be a thug, but he's a strangely sensitive one. He's absolutely shattered by Liz's infidelity, and though he's able to go from zero to murderous rage in seconds, he's also absolutely consumed with self-pity, self-loathing and guilt over the way he treated his wife after she confessed he'd been made a cuckold, an event drawn out via flashback throughout the course of the film.
Winstone is a terrific actor, with an exceptionally expressive mug that offers up everything his black, heavy-set shark eyes don't. His big problem is the one that he doesn't share with his compadres. They have little or no use for women, and though they're furious that Liz would go out behind Colin's back, they also can't understand, really, what the big deal is for the poor lug. Despite his profession and his temper, Colin loves his wife. So what's an anti-social, violent, heartbroken guy to do?
The film's language is profane and wonderfully offensive. The word most frequently used in 44 Inch Chest begins with “c,” ends with “nt” and has a vowel that isn't “a,” “e,” “i” or “o.” The characters are fascinating, and the constant interaction between these top-shelf actors is terrific to watch. But there just isn't enough going on to hold your interest, and you spend the entire 90 minutes waiting for these guys to shut up and commit some kind of serious felony. Sure, kidnapping, assault and, possibly, murder are heinous crimes. But in this film, they just don't feel heinous enough.
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