(nl) wrote: 44 Inch Chest ironically left me quite speechless. This is of course ironic because the entire film is dialogue driven-- an increasingly rare occurrence in western cinema. The Malcolm Venville directed film is beautifully shot, subtly stylized and exudes at all times a noir-ish, dank, rain-soaked moodiness. The plot focuses entirely on Ray Winstone's grief stricken mafioso character, Colin Diamond, who is at first literally hysterically paralyzed upon learning that his wife Liz (Johanne Whalley) has cheated on him. It would seem that Colin is the leader of some crime syndicate, and it quickly becomes the job of his 4 most loyal and trusted friends/ associates to pick him up, dust him off and re-ignite the flame of manhood and brutishness that once burned so brightly within. Diamond's friends believe that if they can entice him to torture and murder his wife's abducted lover, he will recover from his grief and suffering.This ensemble cast is impeccable from top to bottom, without a dud to speak of. All of the actors share and succeed in achieving the arduous task of carrying a film on the shoulders of strong performances. Since 44 Inch Chest mainly takes place in a dilapidated room among five stationary principal characters, it is therefore integral that every piece of dialogue be delivered with a sense of gravitas. Winstone plays the broken and conflicted man devasted to learn that his wife no longer loves him, and worse yet, has taken a younger lover. It would have been easy to play Colin Diamond as either entirely pathetic or entirely brutish. However, Ray Winstone portrays Diamond with great complexity and subtlety; a sight to behold from many angles. It is a feat of this performance that the audience is moved to pity, fear, hate and even to be confused by Colin Diamond. Ian McShane plays the role of Meredith, the unabashedly gay mob guy. Again, rather than opting for stereotypes, McShane's performance is mesmerizing as he depicts this unshakeable character. Every word slides off of his tongue razor sharp and always cuts to the truth of the matter. Meredith is the most realistic and coldhearted of his cohorts because he is so dispassionate about all matters, be they love or business related. In one scene Diamond asks Meredith if he's ever endured such heartbreak and emotional devastation and his reply is priceless, "No...but I'm quite lucky, I'm not--I'm different to you, I don't share your emotions. I don't love like you do; maybe I should be a family man, but I'm not. With me sex is sex, no more no less; cold, hard, dark and sweaty, sudden, excessive. When I shoot my my wad I leave the room-- put my coat on and I leave the room. No thank you's, no 'I really enjoyed that', I leave the room and I don't go back." Every bit of dialogue is this potent and it is evident that the actors savour every word they deliver before it's uttered the way one treasures every morsel of an immaculately cooked meal. John Hurt plays the foul Old Man Peanut, the hold over from the old school, the guardian of the ways of old and often makes it evident that his notably younger companions are not tough enough, are not malicious enough, are not evil enough to claim the roles they inherited as the next generation (of the mob). Every word Hurt delivers as Peanut is profane; one can practically feel the spittle splashing on their face from the screen as he expels his venemous tirades. Yet Peanut is mesmerizing, one is compelled to soak in every foul word he utters. The cast is rounded out by Tom Wilkinson as Archie, Stephen Dillane as Mal, and Melvil Poupaud as loverboy.It is evident that every member of this five man crew has an axe to grind with women, with male identity, with friendship, with power versus powerlessness, and so forth. This is what makes 44 Inch Chest such a fascinating piece; it refuses to become a predictable genre film about a bunch of angry men on a quest for vengeance. Frankly, that is such a trite and trodden premise that it can be forever laid to rest. In stead, this film takes us on Colin Diamond's intimate journey through dealing with hurt, betrayal, victimhood, anger, vengeance and forgiveness. However the film refuses to take a stance on Colin as a man and slaps the audience on the wrist repeatedly for jumping to premature conclusions before knowing the whole story. Initially one is quite eager to pity the catatonic Colin who starts the film sprawled across the floor pathetically looping Badfinger's song "Without You". This continues to seem like a reasonable conclusion as he moans, cries and whimpers to his friends about his broken heart. Yet later, Colin it is revealed via flashbacks to have brutally assaulted his wife partly for vengeance, partly to acquire the name of her young lover. The audience faced with such a horrific display is forced to re-evaluate their assessment of Colin Diamond as a man; do we pity him, do we sympathize, can one simultaneously pity his pain but hate his reaction?The relationships and the resulting dynamic are ultimately what keeps one glued to this film, as such, it really does not matter how it ends. Chest is a mob film in a post Sopranos world; the aforementioned HBO series seems to have given film makers permission to finally move beyond their one dimensional gangster templates. Of course gangsters endure pain, grief, loss and fear-- and exploring these sentiments in this context can prove quite fascinating. When Diamond faces his greatest pain and fear, he calls his closest male friends. And while they toss out a few derogatory comments that take the piss, ultimately their goal is to mend their friend and to restore his manhood. It seems that Colin Diamond is so taken off guard because he bought into the myth of his persona as the all powerful and feared gangster that nobody would ever dare fuck with. Yet all it took for him to disintegrate into a pile of mush was a cheating woman and her lover.There are a few scenes towards the film's culmination that triggered me to question how much of this was the reverie of a broken man. It therefore seems possible, to me at any rate, that every character is some how part of a dream or nightmare that Colin Diamond is having. There is a theory that proposes that every character in one's dream is merely an extension of themselves. In this film Colin's friends, his wife and even her lover represent different facets of Colin himself as he tries to grapple with how to handle this traumatic situation; some parts of him are bloodthirsty for vengeance, other parts are wounded, and so forth. I will not belabour this particular point, but it certainly makes for an interesting second viewing.I was shocked to read so many awful reviews for this film (and I don't just mean that many were poorly written). Many called the film a bore, griped that it was a lot of pointless talking, complained that the climax was not explosive. While I'm not the type to automatically conclude that people who disagree with me are wrong, it did strike me that many reviewers missed the mark, as though perhaps some viewers didn't grasp the point of this film to begin with. It becomes evident by the midway point that we're waiting to see what Diamond is going to do with loverboy; torture him, kill him, regain his foul gangster swagger and show us the man he once was. (WARNING: SPOILER!) Thus many found it a massive flaw that this film ended with Colin allowing his wife's lover to go free. The ending was brilliant, in my view, because it signified an evolution for this character; the man emerged from his pain and trauma with experience and wisdom and did not indulge the temptations that he previously would have. But don't negate the fact that Colin Diamond did attain his vengeance against his wife's lover; no it was not some gory blood soaked ordeal, it was an emotional vengeance that was every bit as messy. Diamond explains to his wife's lover what he took away and broke when he partook in the adulterous affair; he makes the dumbstruck waiter face the pain he inflicted and the life he impacted.As such, I respectfully disagree with most reviews that I have read about this film. It literally pained me to see that people nearly unanimously slammed this impeccably shot, expertly directed and superbly acted film. If you have not yet seen 44 Inch Chest, I urge you to.