A provocatively profane and darkly funny tale as one man’s agony at his wife’s infidelity is avenged when his friends kidnap her French lover and hold him prisoner.

Foul tongues and foul deeds.

This strange small-scale crime movie from Britain was written by Louis Mellis and David Schinto, who scripted Sexy Beast, and 44 Inch Chest takes the same pleasure in foul tongues and tough guys.

Actually it’s perhaps a little unfair to call it a 'crime movie’, because that suggests a bit of biff and pow, intrigue and suspense and this movie has very little of all that juicy stuff beloved of genre fans.

44 Inch Chest is all talk and a lot of threat. Its characters are crooks; hard London types with a lot of nostalgia for simpler days. We don’t know much about them and never really do beyond the fact that they like to use the 'c" word and are bonded (and bounded) by a loyalty to each other.

The film has a hint of plot that hinges on an irony. Ray Winstone’s Colin finds that after years of marriage, his wife Liz (Joanne Whalley) wants to leave him for a French waiter (and in the street-tough terms of the movie, that’s a real bloomin’ insult). Colin responds by beating the crap out of her. After that all he wants to do is lie around, cry and listen to Harry Nilsson’s classic weepie 'Without You’ on high rotation. His mates convince him to kidnap the cuckold – only known as 'Loverboy’ and played by the excellent French actor Melvil Poupard – and exact revenge. But Colin can’t do anything. His verbal assaults reveal him to be a misogynistic twit who has grown dependent on a marriage he takes for granted. With no emotional core to his life, this tough guy collapses. Trapped in his own angst, Colin’s retribution seems to consist of tying the bloke to a chair and talking him to death with a patter that mixes the epigrammatic punch of David Mamet and the long pregnant pauses of Harold Pinter.

Apparently conceived as a theatre piece, most of the action is set in one room. It’s a bit like Waiting for Godot with the cast of a Guy Ritchie movie, but not as well dressed or philosophically nimble as Beckett’s players. Colin’s mates; the hard-boiled Old Man Peanut (John Hurt), Meredith (Ian McShane, in the movie’s best performance, a dashing and unpredictable turn as a suave gay tough), the kindly Archie (Tom Wilkinson) and the awkward Mal (Stephen Dillane) are revealed as a quartet of well-meaning mates completely inept when confronted with their pals broken heart. Their advice to Colin is nothing but a stream of profane swagger – sexist posturing and racial hatred.

Director Malcolm Venville pumps a bit of energy into the constant swirl of talk with hallucinations, time jumps and a fractured structure. Like Colin we’re often bewildered by events, disoriented and unsure where we are and unable to trust anything we see or hear. As an exercise in gender de-construction it’s a crude bit of irony.

Here, these 'tough’ guys are helpless and clueless when it comes to offering emotional support for each other. That’s a screen- writer’s conceit as old as the gangster movie. The movie is artificial, posed, an essay on macho urban 'types’.

It’s a series of cruel jokes at the expense of the kind of characters that rule movie screens but in life we’d run to avoid. Plonked down in a domestic crisis, these 'hard lads’ have to do what everyone else has to do when faced with a relationship break-up – deal with it. They can’t.

It’s all very neat and clever but since it’s so stylised and artificial 44 Inch Chest seems to be less a critique of macho types, and more an exercise in shattering the myths surrounding movie tough guys.

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1 hour 35 min
In Cinemas 29 April 2010,
Wed, 09/08/2010 - 11