As in SEXY BEAST, the previous collaboration between screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto, 44 INCH CHEST begins with an examination of actor Ray Winstone's body at home. But unlike the previous film, which began with Winstone well-fed, sun-baked, and relaxed by the pool, Winstone (here playing gangster Colin Diamond) lies barely breathing, like a beached whale, amid the wreckage of his marriage, his home, and indeed his life. We soon learn some of the details of his wife's infidelity, and a desperate, barely coherent phone call from Colin quickly brings a small army of friends to his support.
Said friends turn out to be a veritable rogues gallery of Britain's Most Dangerous Men, from the pragmatic Archie (Tom Wilkinson) to gay and dangerous gambler Meredith (executive producer Ian McShane) to old school foul-mouth Old Man Peanut (John Hurt), who immediately kidnap the boyfriend for a tete-a-tete with Colin. Colin is reeling from the betrayal, and remains indecisive about the boyfriend's fate, even as his friends wait itchily but patiently on the sideline, all too eager to get their licks in.
The story in many ways seems simply an excuse to get some of the UK's finest actors together for a Pinter-esque cuss-a-thon, and indeed, watching these thespic lions inflicting all manner of verbal and physical abuse upon one another is a delight. But the film exists as more than simply a filmed stage play, and deploys a number of cinematic devices to portray Colin's disassociation and potential annihilation. To be sure, debuting filmmaker Malcolm Venville has most of the heavy lifting done for him by the script and cast, but the film never takes the easy way out by descending into British gangster cliche, and Venville keeps the humanity of all of the film's characters front and center. Some have been disappointed by aspects of its story, but like its troubled protagonist, 44 INCH CHEST ultimately has nothing to prove to anyone, and is possessed of a morality that is ultimately bracing. Your proprietor regrets that he can not divulge what grabbed him so much about this film without spoiling major aspects of it, and thusly commends it to you unreservedly, saying no more.