This British crime effort comes from the writers of the superb Sexy Beast and shows certain traits with that marvellous movie, foul language and sharp performances giving life to vivid characters. But sadly the material here is much weaker and fails to excite or engage.
Winstone plays Colin Diamond, a large thug who has now gone to pieces with the knowledge that his wife (Whalley) has been having an affair with a lowly French waiter (Poupard). He and his cohorts kidnap the luckless worker and take him to a decrepit East London house where Colin intends to do away with him such is his anger. But as we delve into his contorted mind, we get to see a more complicated side to him. Will he really murder the defenceless chap?
Old Man Peanut (Hurt) is very keen to see him dead, choking on his dentures at one point when displaying venomous loathing. Archie (Wilkinson), who lives with his aged mum, tries to be a little more understanding while vicious Mal (Dillane) doles out nasty abuse with malicious ease. Trying to bring a degree of calm to the proceedings is Meredith (McShane) a smartly dressed homosexual who throws in some funny asides. The actor's a joy to watch in this role, displaying a slightly camp persona when calling the boys "kittens". And Hurt is excellent too, giving a wonderful display of anger and scorn all wrapped up in non-PC verbiage.
One can't fault the actors in any way - they're all terrific and must have relished getting their teeth stuck into these characters. That goes for Whalley too, still looking splendid. But the film becomes static and stagey, rarely venturing from the single room set, which contains little more than a cupboard and a few chairs littered about. The narrative is too drawn out, the direction never imparting a real sense of danger or unease. This scenario had the potential to be riveting but it never takes off. In fact, it doesn't go anywhere. Winstone's tortured musings become tiresome and after a while you just want him to shut up and do something.
However, there's one scene where Hurt explains the plot of Cecil B De Mille's Samson and Delilah, equating it with how women treat men, and we see choice clips from the classic toga epic. For a brief moment this provides a welcome respite from the dingy unappealing setting. For the rest, it's mostly a four-letter diatribe that proves much ado about nothing. One is left dissatisfied by this undernourished enterprise and mystified why this great cast let their considerable talents be squandered on such an anti-climactic script.
SECOND OPINION | Neil Davey ??? Bearing about as much resemblance to Sexy Beast as Ray Winstone does to, well, Beowulf, selling 44 Inch Chest on the heritage of its writers is a little misleading. This isn't a crime drama with a twist as per Sexy Beast: this is a tale of a broken marriage where the main character and his mates just happen to be gangsters. It is an odd tale, a wordy quest for redemption dressed up as a sweary revenge drama, and I can see why it would leave some cold. But it's hard to completely dislike a film that features the cream of British acting talent (presumably Gambon and McKellen were busy?) having a whale of a time reciting some lusciously ripe dialogue. Yes, it feels like a stage play but, actually, the stylised dialogue works within the setting (and hell, stylised dialogue never harmed Hal Hartley's career, or Joss Whedon's for that matter) and there are pleasures to be had watching the ensemble, particularly John Hurt's amusing homophobic psychopathy and the shamelessly camp McShane, and Winstone's grizzled, flabby Colin fumble his way to a degree of understanding. An odd but generally rewarding experience.
EXTRAS ★★ Two featurettes – a making-of called Story behind 44 Inch Chest (14 minutes) and Up Close and Personal (five minutes). Oh, and the theatrical trailer.