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44 Inch Chest (Image Entertainment, R)

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Mellis and Scinto’s dialogue may cause some to squirm, but the problem isn’t the words as much as the plot, or rather, the complete lack of one.

 

 

Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) is a very hard man whose heart has been turned as brittle as glass by the infidelity of his wife of 21 years, Liz (Joanne Whalley). Colin’s crew—a motley one, to be sure, made up of cranky old homophobe Peanut (John Hurt), mild-mannered momma’s-boy Archie (Tom Wilkinson), suave and sophisticated “poofer” Meredith (Ian McShane), and token young chap Mal (Stephen Dillane)—stand up for their mate by kidnapping Liz’s French lover (Melvil Poupaud) and setting the scene for Colin to take his bloody revenge.
 
But will that revenge ever come? Maybe not. As his friends egg him on to take his rightful vengeance, Colin barely hears a word of it, ignoring the argument around him as he mutters how he lost Liz because he “loved her too much.” Winstone plays the broken heart to a T, capturing a potent mix of confusion, regret, and anger that simmers just below the surface, threatening to explode at any minute. When he lectures his wife’s lover in a long, tender soliloquy on the nature of real, lifelong love and how he’ll never know the kind of love Colin had for Liz, it’s riveting, powerful stuff. The French lothario, meanwhile, has no dialogue, no name (he’s referred to solely as “Loverboy”), and no emotions, save fear.
 
But for the most part Colin is left dumbstruck, leaving the heavy lifting to his cohorts, a veritable who’s who of Britain’s finest actors. The script by Louis Mellis and David Scinto (the team behind Sexy Beast, which also featured both Winstone and McShane) lets the cast pump up the testosterone level with enough profanity to make In Bruges look like Snow White, with an f-bomb dropped every 35 seconds or so and a c-word never far behind. (Sample dialogue: “You fucked his fucking wife, you wife-fucking cunt.”) 44 Inch Chest is clearly not for the easily offended, and female viewers in general may bristle at its woman-hating streak. This particularly bubbles to the surface when Peanut turns the parable of Samson and Delilah into a misogynistic rant, delighting in summing up every bit of Samson’s suffering with “…and all because of a woman,” Hurt not so much saying those last words as spitting them with disgust. Meredith’s promiscuity and homosexuality also becomes a target of Peanut’s despicable machismo, but not before setting up McShane to deliver a powerful message of empathetic support to Colin: “You’re normal. You’re human. Humans hurt.”
 
Mellis and Scinto’s dialogue may cause some to squirm, but the problem isn’t the words as much as the plot, or rather, the complete lack of one. The film is basically a 90-minute one act play, wherein its cast sits in one room, chewing the scenery as they threaten Loverboy and try to convince Colin to take the revenge they feel he has so rightly earned while Colin, for his part, wallows in his own misery until…well, that’s pretty much it. Toward the end of the movie, first-time feature director Malcolm Venville tries to stir things up visually with a number of sidebars, from Colin’s own fever dreams to pairing Peanut’s Samson and Delilah story with footage from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 film version. These detours stir things up visually, but neither an interesting visual style nor the uniformly stellar acting can distract from the fact that it’s still the same damn guys sitting around the same damn room. You keep hoping for confrontation, for catharsis, for some kind of dramatic breaking point. But that sense of satisfaction never comes. | Jason Green
 
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