‘Chest’ another good ride for Winstone

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, February 11, 2010 2:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

With the same writers and a couple of the stars of “Sexy Beast,” the Brit crime film “44 Inch Chest” arrives on the scene with quite a bit of cheeky, foul-mouthed good will. Although “good will” might not be the exact phrase.

“Sexy Beast” was a wonderfully odd variation on the gangster film, about a retired hood who just wanted to live the good life in the sun. Along with its other pleasures, it gave a great role to Ray Winstone, the beefy yet sleek character actor.

Winstone is back on board for “44 Inch Chest,” and his character’s situation is equally offbeat. His wife (Joanne Whalley) has abruptly announced that she is leaving him, and the event has shattered her husband’s life.

What makes this more than a run-of-the-mill domestic crisis is that Winstone is a member of a crime circle of tough goodfellas, and the lads — who are more like oversized children than recognizable men — rally around their friend in his time of depression.

Specifically, they’ve got the wife’s new boyfriend tied up in a wardrobe. What happens to him is up to Winstone, if the big baby can stop weeping long enough to make up his mind.

What makes the movie enjoyable, at least for a while, is the cast of potent British actors playing the boys. Tom Wilkinson “Michael Clayton”) plays the most genial of the lot, a fellow who might be the friendly neighborhood florist if it weren’t for the fact of him being a gangster.

The plummiest role goes to Ian McShane, the rum-voiced “Deadwood” star, who also appeared in “Sexy Beast.” McShane, moving more slowly than his fellow actors, deftly sketches an elegantly gay member of the group.

John Hurt plays the oldest and by far crankiest of the boys, and Stephen Dillane is the youngest. It is difficult to say which is the most profane, since the script by Louis Mellis and David Scinto is liberally laced with foul language.

Amidst the testosterone, it should be noted that Joanne Whalley’s restless housewife is impressive, and the actress hasn’t been this good, or this prominent, in years.

Director Malcom Venville keeps all this moving, although you realize at a certain point that the story is essentially a very concentrated, playlike idea: It exists to illustrate a point about the nature of betrayal and vengeance.

The film becomes less amusing and more serious as the nature of Winstone’s brutality becomes clear. It’s not as jolly as “Sexy Beast,” that’s for sure, and the point seems smaller. The actors’ showcase, however, is impressive.

“44 Inch Chest”

The writers and star of “Sexy Beast” return with a less jolly look at the criminal life: Hoodlum Ray Winstone’s wife has just left him, and the fragile lad needs a little help from his friends. A smaller idea than “Sexy Beast,” this nevertheless works as a showcase for British acting talent: Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, Joanne Whalley.

Rated: R for language, violence

Showing: Varsity

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