44 Inch Chest (2009)
“The Measure of Revenge”
Director: Malcolm Venville
Cast: Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt
Synopsis: A jealous husband and his friends plot the kidnapping of his wife’s lover with the intention of restoring his wounded ego.
The first thing that strikes you about Malcolm Venville’s 44 Inch Chest is the cast list. Led by the ever-reliable Ray Winstone, who seems to have become something of a national institution over the past few years, it features Ian McShane, a man who has re-invented himself thanks to his appearance in US TV series Deadwood (although he once again plays a gay gangster similar to his role in Sexy Beast, which was also written by this movie’s writers, Louis Mellis and David Scinto). John Hurt, fast becoming the Grand Old Man of British Cinema, plays an irascible ageing villain whose best days are far behind him, while Tom Wilkinson, who seems to be increasingly in demand these days, disguises his Northern roots behind a disarmingly naturalistic London accent. Stephen Dillane holds his own in this austere company as a Jack-the-Lad type gangster, while Joanne Whalley, who seems to be seen too rarely these days, is given little to do but still manages to make an impression.
Winstone plays Colin, a dodgy used car salesman whose wife (Whalley) has just delivered the devastating news that she is leaving him for a younger man – a waiter in a French restaurant. Colin’s odd assortment of friends, Archie (Wilkinson), Meredith (McShane), Old Man Peanut (Hurt) and Mal (Dillane), duly organise the abduction of the waiter and ferry him to a derelict back-street house where Colin must decide whether to kill him or not.
44 Inch Chest is one of those movies whose meaning hides within the words spoken by its characters. On the surface, it appears to be a straightforward tale of a ruined man struggling to come to terms with a devastating episode, and asks the viewer how they would react if faced with the situation Colin faces. However, the film is actually all about Colin. His wife’s infidelity is simply the catalyst that triggers a dark searching of his soul and of his masculine identity. His four friends each represent different facets of the masculine psyche and may, in fact, merely be figments of Colin’s imagination, conjured up by his tortured mind as an aid to negotiating the thorny topic of his own sexuality.
McShane’s Meredith represents the detached, emotionally distant side of men. “With me it’s the five Fs,’ he coolly tells his associates, ’Find ’em, follow ’em, finger ’em, f*** ’em and forget ’em.”; Old Man Peanut is an old-school traditionalist, disgusted by Meredith’s overt homosexuality and appalled by the way he unapologetically flaunts it; Archie is the mother’s boy, middle-aged and single, and still living at home with his ageing mum, while Mal represents the cocky, aggressive face presented to the public to hide true inner feelings which might be construed by some as weaknesses. Their characteristics are all displayed by Colin through the words that he speaks.
Viewed with this perspective in mind, Mellis and Scinto’s expletive-laden script becomes a textured, multi-layered examination of the male psyche, defying genre conventions – no guns, little violence, character driven and dialogue-heavy – to deliver a thought-provoking interpretation of the conflicting personalities within us all.