44 Inch Chest * * * *
Director: Malcolm Venville.
Screenplay: Louis Mellis, David Scinto.
Starring: Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, Joanne Whalley, Melvil Poupaud, Steven Berkoff.
Remember the British gangster film “Sexy Beast” released in 2000? You know, the one where “Gandhi” goes ape shit? Well, this film brings some of the cast and crew back together again. Unfortunately, it seems that Ben Kingsley wasn’t taking ‘yes’ for an answer this time and isn’t involved. It does, however, have actors Ray Winstone and Ian McShane again, as well as screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto. Now, this may not have gained the same acclimations as it’s predecessor but this is still an undeniably powerful film in it own right.
When his wife Liz (Joanne Whalley) says she’s leaving him for another man, Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) refuses to take it. He enlists the help of his criminal friends Meredith (Ian McShane), Peanut (John Hurt), Archie (Tom Wilkinson) and Mal (Stephen Dillane) in abducting her lover (Melvil Poupaud). They take him back to an old flat and keep him in a wardrobe, while deciding on how to take revenge.
Where “Sexy Beast” had it’s English lowlife criminals sunning it up in the villas of Spain. This film has them on their own turf. It’s back to the grit and grime of dear ol’ ‘Landan’ where Winstone gets to be ‘the Daddy’ again. This is no bad thing though as it’s what Winstone does best. And… he’s not alone. He’s joined by an excellent cast of familiar British actors – who all get their turn at spouting some vitriol. It’s the performers that’s the best thing about this and having such choice actors as Hurt, Wilkinson, McShane, and the very underrated Dillane all backing up the lead, is a thing of dramatic gold. The performances are uniformly superb and it’s an added bonus that they don’t go anywhere. This is a moody and intense chamber piece that has all of the actors sharing the same limited space for almost the entire film, making it more akin to a stage-play. There is a brooding intensity to it that only benefits from the actors’ terrifying and multilayered performances. On the surface, the characters have such a ferocity that they resemble a pack of rabid dogs but there are undercurrents of repression and weakness, at times making them about as threatening as a poodle. It’s this very attention to characterisation that keeps this film going. It’s also wonderfully shot in a sepia hue that adds a stark and bleak environment to the match the material. It may be too grim and misogynist for some tastes but essentially this is a love story about men full of bravado but quite fragile underneath their tough exterior. That being said, there’s no denying it’s vehement and vigorous approach and the title itself is very fitting.
I greatly enjoyed “Sexy Beast” but it’s wholly unfair that this film was compared and ultimately overshadowed by it. This is an impressive, moody and claustrophobic chamber piece with an ensemble that deliver with all the force they can muster.