With an ensemble that includes Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, and the venerable John Hurt, 44 Inch Chest is a talking-head flick of the highest order. It’s David Mamet-meets-Guy Ritchie – a vulgar verbal assault on the senses that would be just as at home on the stage as it is on the screen. It’s also the sort of movie where nothing actually happens, and, when the end credits roll, leaves you wondering if there was any point to it at all.
Colin Diamond (Winstone) is a doting husband who one day comes home to discover that his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), is leaving him for another man. Devastated, Colin contacts his friend, Archie (Wilkinson), who assembles their gang of past-their-prime street toughs to help Colin exact his revenge. The gang kidnaps Liz’s young French lover (Melvil Poupaud) from the restaurant he works at, and carts him off to an abandoned house where they lock him in an armoire and wait for the shell-shocked Colin to get up the nerve to finish him off. The ornery old mobster, Peanut (Hurt) wants Colin to show some backbone , while the sociopathic Mal (Stephen Dillane) is more than willing to do the job himself. The slinky-smooth Meredith (McShane), meanwhile, is willing to give Colin the time he needs to work up the courage to do the deed (or not), while Archie…well…he’s just glad to get out of the house. The fragile Colin, his thoughts fogged by whiskey and rage, asks to be left alone with their quarry, and, as the gang wait for him outside, Colin is left to determine “Loverboy’s” fate.
I liken 44 Inch Chest to a dinner where the fantastic conversation runs on a bit too long and then abruptly ends with the other diners walking out of the restaurant leaving you stuck with the bill. It’s an oftentimes mesmerizing set piece, with flawless performances and some truly memorable bits of dialogue, but it’s as if writers, Louis Mellis and David Scinto were intentionally mining for Mamet-style gold, here, launching one rhythmic word barrage after another, each strewn with forced vulgarity making the characters sound like beat poets with Tourrette’s syndrome. Only Winstone, whose character is so emotionally shattered that he has a hard enough time stringing together a coherent sentence let alone a Tarantino-esque soliloquy, is spared the excess verbiage, and his Colin is more believable and compelling because of it, and, as he slowly comes to the realization that he’s truly lost the love of his life, it’s absolutely heart-breaking, especially as the silent loverboy, Poupaud (who conveys more emotion in his eyes than all of Mellis’ and Scinto’s words combined), bears witness to Colin’s breakdown.
The vociferous nature of the dialogue isn’t all bad, however. Hurt’s character thrives on it, and his performance, alone, is worth the price of admission. The veteran actor gnaws on his dialogue like a cornered rat, spitting out his profanity-laced diatribes with conviction and meticulous comic timing. He’s an angry old crook reveling in the thought of one last good blood-letting before shuffling off this mortal coil, and his impatience with the indecisive Colin is the stuff of comic wizardry. Sadly, the script has him in constant competition with McShane’s Meredith, whose droll witticisms and wink-nudge habit of breaking the fourth wall ultimately proves grating. This leaves Wilkinson’s buffoonish Archie and Dillane’s tough Mal with little to do but nod and stammer, only occasionally getting a word in edgewise, and, what began as a spirited and deeply immersive character piece ultimately wears out its welcome by the shrug-inducing final act.
44 Inch Chest comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Image Entertainment, and is presented in a fine 1.85:1 1080p transfer that boasts exceptional detail, especially evident in the films myriad close-ups, where skin textures and fine lines are impressively rendered. This is a fairly neutral looking film, with a lot of brown, muted tones and golden hues, and the transfer handles this aesthete wonderfully. Blacks are rich and true, with deep levels of contrast and no hint of artifacting or excess grain. It’s a great looking transfer and it’s complimented by a fairly robust (if not entirely uneventful) DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track. The mix has a heavy bottom end, and, initially, it felt as if the dialogue was a bit on the soft side, a bit overshadowed by Angelo Badalamenti’s brooding score, but it sorted itself out quite nicely. This isn’t the kind of film where one would expect a “Wow” factor in terms of sound design, but, for what it is, the mix is excellent.
Supplements include a lively commentary by director, Malcolm Venville, as well as a short interview segment (SD) that’s somewhat redundant in that it reiterates much of what had already been covered in the commentary. An EPK-style making of documentary (SD), a collection of “epilogues” (SD), and trailer’s for this and other Image releases round out the extras.
44 Inch Chest succeeds as a vehicle for great performances and some occasionally brilliant dialogue, but, in terms of story and structure, it just doesn’t live up to the previous collaboration between the writers and McShane and Winstone (the excellent Sexy Beast). Still, this sort of collaboration is a rare thing, and I enjoyed watching these actors work together in such an intimate manner. Hurt is at the top of his game, here, and Winstone’s heart-wrenching performance is not one I’ll soon forget, and, for those reasons alone, 44 Inch Chest is worth seeking out.