44 Inch Chest (2009)

44 Inch Chest (2009)

Starring Ray Winstone, Tom Wilkinson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Stephen Dillane, Joanne Whalley and Jim Hawkins.

Directed by Malcolm Venville.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) is having a rough night. His wife of 21 years—Liz (Joanne Whalley), the love of his life, the queen of his universe, the mother of his children—has found someone new. Emotionally shattered, his life and home in ruins, Colin calls his friend Archie (Tom Wilkinson) who quickly rounds up the whole gang: Old Man Peanut (John Hurt), a foul-mouthed codger who’s quick to tell Colin how the late Billy Brighton would have handled the whole mess in the old days, by God; Mal (Stephen Dillane), a foul-mouthed hothead only too eager to conjure up imagined details of Liz’s affair; and Meredith (Ian McShane), a smooth and suave dandy who remains cool, collected and emotionally detached from the whole nasty business.

With a near-comatose Colin riding shotgun, Archie—good old soft-spoken, ever-supportive Arch, who lives with his mum and has never been married—drives the gang to the restaurant where Liz’s Loverboy (Melvil Poupaud) is a waiter (a waiter!). “Concentrate on your snails,” a bat-wielding Archie advises the patrons as Loverboy is forcibly removed from the premises and shoved into the back of the van, whisking him away to an abandoned apartment building, where he is locked in a large wardrobe (presumably the titular 44-inch chest) to await whatever revenge Colin chooses to exact.

“This isn’t a guys’ movie,” Laura declared as we watched Mal, Peanut, Archie and Meredith hurl abuse at Loverboy, finally removed from the wardrobe and seated—hands tied and a bag over his head—on a chair in the middle of the rundown apartment. “They’re talking too much; they’re not doing anything. That’s not how men behave.” It’s true: once Loverboy has been abducted, the main thrust of 44 Inch Chest is Colin deciding—with no small amount of advice from his friends—just what he’s going to do with his wife’s paramour.

44 Inch Chest is a tricky beast: a fairly straightforward story that often suggests all is not as it seems, that we are not privy to the entire picture, that at any moment some crucial bit we’ve been missing will be revealed, all the pieces will suddenly fall into place and our collective minds will be blown. For example, Loverboy’s face remains hidden for roughly two-thirds of the film, leading us to wonder if perhaps the gang has nabbed the wrong bloke or maybe when the bag is removed Meredith or Mal will recognize him, and his true identity will turn the story on its side.

Colin, too, teases us with flashbacks to his encounter with Liz; each subsequent flashback revealing a little more, planting the suggestion that maybe—just maybe—something horrible has happened to his estranged wife. Adding to the sense that all is not as it seems, Colin appears to be growing more and more delusional as time goes by, first imagining that Liz has found him and Loverboy, then dreaming up ever more unusual encounters with Liz and the gang. “Colin’s gone,” he says at one point, and Laura and I both began to wonder if we weren’t watching a British version of Identity.

We watched and waited, expecting that the next flashback would detail Liz’s gruesome death, or that the next words out of Old Man Peanut’s mouth would—between f-bombs—reveal that the entire scenario is playing out in Colin’s mind as he lies dying on his living room floor, murdered by his estranged wife.

When Colin leaves the apartment for the last time, it is immediately apparent that it really is the last time, that the other shoe we’ve been waiting for is never going to drop—it doesn’t even exist. The ending does not twist, the figurative sneeze we’ve been building up to for the past ninety minutes is denied, and along with it any sense of satisfaction, release or relief.