Starring John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Tom Wilkinson. Directed by Malcolm Venville. 94 mins.
Despite the prevalence of swearing and coarse language, it is still not usual to begin a review of film by mentioning the language first. However, 44 Inch Chest is a film about language, good and bad. The bad language is enough to drive many of the average audience from the cinema so coarse is it and so wearing and wearying as it grates on the ear and the sensibilities. Repetitious is an understatement. And, as spoken by some of Britain's top character actors, it sometimes seems incongruous and seems more of a performance rather than language that comes naturally. So, the warning comes first.
What can be said about the film, which was written by Louis Mellis and David Cinto, responsible for Sexy Beast, is that seems more like a play, even a radio play, with the strong emphasis on language (and the strong language). Most of the action, such as it is, takes place in one dingy room and in the stairwell and hallway outside the room.
This means that the emphasis is on characters and characterisation.
At the opening, Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) seems to be lying dead while Harry Nilsson is singing in the background. But he is not dead, just devastated by his wife's announcement that she is leaving him for another man. His friends rally to support him and abduct the man, a French waiter, and lock him in a wardrobe. For most of the film, they talk, they argue, they try to persuade Colin to come out of it. They deliver themselves of opinions on all kinds of topics, very male and very macho and are waiting for Colin to kill the waiter.
The friends seem to be thugs of one kind or another. Tom Wilkinson is the ordinary bloke who lives with his old mother and seems to be a good mate. On the other hand, Ian McShane plays a more suave character (and excels in his delivery and sense of menace) who is gay and self-centred. Stephen Dillane is the follower. And John Hurt is the old man who belongs to the days of the Krays and their codes for old-fshioned gangster behaviour. Joanne Whalley is the wife and Melvil Poupard (who has no dialogue but is able to convey his depression at being taken and held) is the waiter.
Do they have thug versions of Waiting for Godot? 44 inch chest seems to be making a claim for a position to the left of centre in the Godot field.
Icon Out April 29 2010
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.