With a cast that includes John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, Steven Berkoff and Joanne Whalley, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there must be something very special indeed about the script of 44 Inch Chest. Just how do you round up so much English talent in one East-end crime flick? The answer’s probably in the much-peddled pedigree of the film’s writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto, whose previous outing Sexy Beast is one of the best Brit-gangster films of the past twenty years. But something’s gone horribly wrong here – and with the poorly structured and verbose script in the hands of first-time feature director Malcolm Venville, the result is a not so much a story of any shape as a competition between some of England’s finest actors to see who can spit out the c-word the most often and with the most venom.
That’s not to say there isn’t one great moment in the film: it’s opening, a truly extraordinary scene with Winstone as Colin Diamond, a beefy London bovver-boy who has been reduced to a sobbing hulk because his missus (Whalley) has had an affair with some younger man (and French, to add injury to wounded British bedroom pride). We find Col as the camera softly glides over his destroyed apartment, his poodle cowering under the sideboard, and Harry Nilsson belting out Without You on the stereo. But after this, the theatrical rot sadly sets in, with much of the film shot unimaginatively in one room. We listen and listen (and listen some more) as Col’s violent and verbal mates Meredith (McShane), Peanut (Hurt), Archie (Wilkinson) and Mal (Stephen Dillane) convince Col of his next steps: kidnap the naughty lover boy who has caused the grief, lock him in a chest (that’s presumably the right width) and punish him gangster style within an inch of his life using a brutal combination of tongue and fist.
Apart from a couple of flashbacks, we too are locked up in this small room and tortured with poor Loverboy (Melvil Poupard), and unless you want a lesson in profanity, there’s little of sustainable interest here, with director Venville having very little idea how to capture the excess energy that’s bouncing off the walls. Winstone is excellent but, like his seasoned English colleagues, wasted. The film has been kicking around the traps for more than a year now and is slated for DVD release shortly. Hint, hint.