44 Inch Chest is an amazing film. It is a chamber play of Death and the Maiden proportions. Its rich, vile characters burst off the screen with great wit, depravity and comedic timing. Perfectly lit, gloriously acted and with a story that leaves you questioning your own emotions, it’s a shame this film didn’t get more attention. It’s got some nice homages to the British crime movies of recent years, even a Guy Ritchie or two, regardless it is the opposite end of the spectrum from any of them: Layer Cake; Gangster No. 1; Sexy Beast; Snatch; The Long Good Friday; I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Croupier; Mona Lisa; hell, even The Limey!
I don’t want to reveal much because I love the story so much, but it’s about a car salesman/gangster named Colin Diamond (played by Ray Winstone) whose wife tells him she’s met another man and wants to leave him after 21 years of marriage. Colin is madly in love with her and always has been, and he takes this news terribly. He calls up his mates and they kidnap her young lover from his place of work and lock him up in an armoire with them in their hideout, while Colin figures out his feelings.
So yeah, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, a touchy-feely crime drama, which for the most part takes place in both the dilapidated hideout and Colin’s deteriorating mind. Eventually he’s having waking nightmares, faced with a future minus his love and the prospect of immediate vindication via vengeance. The acerbic wit and violent egging-on comes forth from the mouths of Ian McShane, John Hurt, Stephen Dillane and Tom Wilkinson who fill out his entourage exceptionally well. John Hurt, bad dentures and all, stands out among them all as a hateful, aged man and the father of Colin.
McShane plays a dapper, chain-smoking, out-of-the-closet “puff” who seems to be the only one that can get through to Colin in his disjointed state of mind. Wilkinson plays a squishy, middle-aged gangster who still lives with his mum and doesn’t seem to really like his life all that much. Dillane rounds out the supporting cast as a hard-to-read friend of Colin, who consequently plagues his waking nightmares later. The beauty of this film is how each character plays off of the other and while they form a cohesive circle of on-screen personalities, Winstone always remains front and center as the emotional, volatile void that he is. His hair trigger reactions to things are the beauty of his acting (see Scum for the pinnacle of his work), and every time I watch him in a film, I get physically nervous.
If that’s not reason enough alone to see this movie, see it for the inspired re-telling of Samson and Delilah as seen through the eyes of Colin’s curmudgeon of a dad. A beautifully crafted, tightly edited sequence, it’s the kind of scene you’d expect to see in a Tarantino film; the kind of scene you skip ahead to and show your friends on movie night. The film’s score is perfect, a fusion of strings and electronic instruments from Angelo Badalamenti and Massive Attack, it puts a great finishing touch on the movie. The only thing I can’t figure out yet is the title. I assume it has something to say about how despite the broad shoulders and chest that Colin looms over his nemesis with, he’s not too large to be broken down himself.