44 Inch Chest

44 Inch Chest


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

44 Inch Chest must have looked great on paper. Our hero's wife leaves him. His gangster friends kidnap her young lover and lock him in a wardrobe. They're waiting for our hero to be ready to kill him. In the meantime, everybody learns something about themselves. Throw in actors like John Hurt and Ian McShane, plus the enduringly popular, if rather less capable, Ray Winstone. Add a score by cult favourite Angelo Badalamenti. What else could you need? Oh yes... a script.

The film opens beautifully. We enter an apparently empty flat, the camera moving slowly around from one object to another. Everything has been ripped to pieces. Lying on the floor is what we first take for a dead body. Then it opens its eyes. It's Colin (Ray Winstone). The destruction, and his state of abjection, plunge us straight into the grief he is experiencing as a result of his wife's desertion. Winstone plays against type here and it's the best bit of acting he does in the whole film. But from there things go rapidly downhill.

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The idea of the bare room, the helpless prisoner and the group of aggressive men, each of whom seems, in a different way, to have his masculinity at stake, is profoundly Pinteresque. Unfortunately it has neither Pinter's wit nor his brevity. John Hurt's foul-mouthed gangster patriarch is so crude as to go beyond brutishness into tedium. Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane barely give their characters any personality at all. Ian McShane is at least charismatic but delivers his lines like a refugee from a Joe Orton comedy, minus the laughs. It's cute that the producers went to the trouble of finding a real Frenchman to play the prisoner (a French waiter), even though he doesn't speak, but he gets little opportunity to contribute at all.

As for Winstone, he simply doesn't have the acting chops to pull off this kind of role, which involves the discovery of hidden depths it's hard to believe are there. If one were to award stars for effort he might deserve something but that doesn't save the film. The one plus point is Joanne Whalley as the wife. More handsome and clearly a more confident actress than she used to be, she works well in an often unsympathetic role; one is reminded that it wasn't a lack of talent that doomed her to the C-list, just her awful choice of material.

44 Inch Chest might have worked if it had been 44 minutes long, but there's just not enough material here for a full length feature. Badalamenti's score is his worst yet, milking every imaginable cliché. The direction is static and character-free. Viewers are unlikely to learn anything they couldn't have figured out in pre-school. It's a waste of time for all concerned. Don't let it waste yours.

Reviewed on: 09 Jan 2010
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44 Inch Chest packshot
After Colin's wife leaves him, his gangster friends kidnap her lover - but will Colin actually kill him?
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Director: Malcolm Venville

Writer: Louis Mellis, David Scinto

Starring: John Hurt, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Tom Wilkinson, Joanne Whalley, Dave Legeno, Stephen Dillane, Steven Berkoff, Melvil Poupaud

Year: 2009

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


London 2009

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