Colin Diamond (Winstone) is shattered when his wife Liz (Whalley) says shes leaving him for another man. Colins underworld-affiliated friends abduct the wifes lover and keep him in a wardrobe in a seedy flat while Colin decides how to take his revenge.
After broken hulk Colin (played by a shaggily greying, wheezy, paunched-out Ray Winstone) has blubbed in the wreckage of his home, for all the world like Bella after being dumped by Edward, snippets introduce his posse of dubious friends — elegant gay gambler Meredith (Ian McShane), middle-aged Mum’s boy Archie (Tom Wilkinson), sly chancer Mal (Stephen Dillane) and Albert-Steptoe-From-Hell Old Man Peanut (John Hurt). Then, aside from the odd flashback with Colin’s erring wife (Joanne Whalley), almost all of the film takes place in one dingy room, or just outside in the hallway, as the blokes talk at Colin and he tries to decide what to do to the French waiter (Melvil Poupaud) his friends have tied up inside a wardrobe.
It’s implied that these people are crooks, and they certainly spiel the ‘cunt this’ and ‘cunt that’ brand of dialogue associated with London gangland movies lately, but the only real topic of the evening is Colin’s marriage problems. The fact that he lives in a world where a wife asking for a separation is grounds for kidnapping, torture and murder adds some suspense, but isn’t really important to Colin’s misery. However, audiences might wonder why we should care about a swine who shoves his wife through a window when she ticks him off — and how come neither of them thought he was less than ideally suited to family life before this crisis.
Though violent gits whining that nobody loves them aren’t exactly anyone’s favourite company, 44 Inch Chest gets by on the quality of its performances. Director Malcolm Venville doesn’t do as much with a limited setting as, say, is achieved with Exam, but Sexy Beast writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto keep up the patter. Poupaud, alarmingly overqualified for a wordless role, wisely keeps quiet, but all the Brits — including Whalley when she joins the boys in an odd fantasy sequence — relish their precise, profane talk. McShane is the most fun, indulging in a sexual fantasy about Oliver Reed, but Hurt is wonderfully vile as he spits out dentures along with bilious hatred, Wilkinson projects his inner softie, and Dillane edgily gets shots in as the tagalong who bullies to avoid becoming another victim.
A great evening at the theatre, maybe. It has enough straight to-camera emotion and anecdote to provide clips for a wealth of acting awards nominations, but too rarely feels like a movie.