There are moments within 44 Inch Chest which make the overall film a damn shame, moments good enough to make this a film worth recommending and an overall film which I would be ashamed to defend. Never have I been so impressed, while also disappointed. There are moments of perfectly written dialogue in this tight little drama from the writers of Sexy Beast, and yet the script seems to run out of fresh ideas by the third act. For a film which starts strong and seems to be building steam, it suddenly falls flat in a series of hallucinated sequences and a necessary ending which still feels somewhat weak.
Half of what makes the dialogue seem so much better than the average film is thanks to the actors which fill the roles, speak the words. This is a film with so much dialogue and so few locations that it could easily be adapted into a stage play, or perhaps was originally written as such. Upon discovering that he has been betrayed by his wife, Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) is unable to handle the information. He is nearly catatonic when picked up by his gangster friends, who take him to the restaurant where the French waiter having an affair with his wife lives. In a fast and brutal manner which falsely gives the impression of more violence to come, the waiter is taken away in a van to be taken care of.
The remainder of the film takes place the following evening, as Colin decides whether or not to kill the waiter, a wonderful dialogue-free performance by Melvil Poupaud. Even Colin doesn’t have a great deal to say about the situation, though his friends go into graphic discussion of the situation. The collection of brutal yet compassionate friends is an odd assortment, with some of the best performances of the year. Tom Wilkinson heads up the cast as the level-headed friend Archie, probably the easiest character to understand in the bunch. The others include a violent womanizer named Mal (Stephen Dilane), a homosexual gangster and gambler named Meredith (Ian McShane) and the incredibly foul-mouthed seasoned gangster, Old Man Peanut, played by none other than John Hurt. The opening moments of the film are the most visually satisfying.