Despite all of the negative reviews and a lousy 6.0/10 on IMDb, there was no way in hell I was going to miss 44 Inch Chest. When I first heard about it, I almost didn’t believe it. Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Ian McShane, and Tom Wilkinson all starring in a movie written by the two guys that wrote Sexy Beast, the brutally awesome gangster flick that also starred Winstone and McShane and nabbed Ben Kingsley an Oscar nomination.
I’m a huge believer in Ray Winstone. I think the man is brilliant. He’s one of the finest actors in the business and I’m not sure why so many people seem to overlook the man. It’s not as though he’s new to the business. His first work of brilliance came in 1997 when he starred in the Gary Oldman directed (and also criminally overlooked) Nil by Mouth, where he gave a shockingly powerful performance that nabbed him some BAFTA love, but little more in the public eye. [Note: Go 4:30 seconds in this clip for one of my favorite movie monologues] Maybe Americans couldn’t get over the heavy cockney accent, I’m not sure, but everyone I’ve loaned my copy of it to has loved it (even if one admitted to having to turn the subtitles on to understand them).
The next few years, he took on some bit parts and appeared in many smaller British films. In 2000 he starred in the aforementioned Sexy Beast, where again his performance was stellar, but people continued to overlook him and he continued on in mostly smaller British films (including another overlooked gem, Last Orders, with Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, and Helen Mirren) and some leads in a British TV miniseries or two and some smaller supporting work in Hollywood in the likes of Cold Mountain and King Arthur. Then in 2005, he gave what may have been his most complex and layered performance yet in one of my favorites of the decade, The Proposition, as the British lawman stationed in Australia that is neither hero nor villain who wants nothing more than to “civilize this land.”
Martin Scorsese took notice and gave him a supporting role in The Departed and Hollywood has been calling since, giving him the chance to star as the title character in Zemeckis’s interesting motion-captured Beowulf, Indiana Jones’s new sidekick in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and as the antagonist in Mel Gibson’s latest Edge of Darkness. Unfortunately, despite what most would consider a successful and varied career so far, when I name drop him at the bar amongst friends, I still only receive blank looks. I’m just trying to figure out why that is.
That was a needlessly long way of saying that I really like the guy and I just finished watching 44 Inch Chest, which many people and critics have had a negative reaction to – but I am saying that if you like these actors, snappy dialogue, and long monologues, do not overlook this movie. It’s the story of a man named Colin (Winstone) who breaks down after learning of his wife’s affair. His friends decide to take action, kidnapping the wife’s lover and holding him prisoner in an abandoned building so that Colin can enact his revenge. The film mostly takes place in this one room and what follows is reminiscent of 12 Angry Men meets Glengarry Glen Ross, except with a lot more uses of “fuck.” As the wife’s lover sits awaiting his fate, as IMDb describes it, Colin “wrestles with revenge, remorse, grief and self pity, all the while egged on by his motley crew of friends.”
It’s ambitious and sometimes bizarre and the story may not progress traditionally and the only real conflict in the film is internal, but this is a movie that you watch for a lesson on acting. Winstone is remarkable and while I’m sure it won’t happen, mostly because nobody seems to have watched this movie, this is a performance worthy of awards. The others, especially John Hurt, are at the top of their game, and all of the characters are beautifully diverse, each bringing a unique perspective to the situation – even if all besides Colin are more or less one-dimensional. It’s not a movie that will make any best of the year lists. It’s not even a powerful movie. But it’s a movie I felt compelled to recommend when it’s being forgotten, as it reaffirmed why I love Ray Winstone – and hell, all of these actors – so much. I’m looking forward to watching it again.