Penned by Co-Writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto, “Sexy Beast” is a Crime/Drama from 2000, Directed by Jonathan Glazer (Under The Skin). Gal (played by Ray Winstone) is a self-proclaimed ex-thief who’s busy enjoying a life of luxury off the grid down in Spain, soaking up the blistering sun with his wife Deedee (Amanda Redman) when his past returns for a word, doing so in the form of his old temperamental and violent criminal associate Don Logan (played by Sir Ben Kingsley). Don’s looking to recruit Gal for another job and he’s just the type of man you don’t want to say no to. The film also stars Ian McShane (TV’S Deadwood), Cavan Kendall, Julianne White, and James Fox.
Sexy Beast is truly one of only a handful of those memorable pulpy, punchy British crime films that came at or around the turn of the 20th century. Guy Ritchie had just made “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and the even better “Snatch”, and we’d officially been introduced to rapid-fire dialogue brimming with wit and being rattled off at a hundred miles an hour. I’d seen Glazer’s hard-nosed Sexy Beast many years ago and I remember it leaving me rather cold, but with time and a bit of hindsight, I felt it was time to revisit it. After all, my love for both Winstone and Kingsley has continued to grow exponentially in the years since. This marks the only feature-length film of DP, Ivan Bird’s and he delivers on the befittingly cosmopolitan aesthetics that one would expect from a film like this (especially in the wake of the stylized introduction and opening credits). The framing is tight, the wides are effective, and Bird knows exactly how to capture the darkness of antagonist, Don. The story transitions from Spain to London and both production design and locations ooze of a keen eye behind the wheel of both. Spanish composer Roque Banos (Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe) generates great rhythm in his musical notation, and the film’s opening track “Peaches” by The Stranglers (reminiscent of something from Talking Heads or The Clash), plays perfectly to Gal laying poolside and narrowly escaping certain death at the hands of a runaway boulder – perhaps a sign of things to come. The film has its violent moments but the overall threat of it looms larger and longer than the on-screen content does.
Sexy Beast is fairly thin on characterization, and instead, molded from a pressure-cooker that lies within the singular interplay between the two very different personalities of Gal and Don. It’s all about dialogue and performance and Winstone and Kingsley are undoubtedly at the top of their respective games here, with the former having just made a couple of distinctly heavy films in “The War Zone” and “Nil By Mouth” in the late 90s’. As good as the supporting cast is, and in particular McShane, it’s evident that this is the Ray and Ben show and the vulnerabilities of their respective characters only really come to the surface in the moments where they’re alone together. Gal pleads for Don to just let him be happy, which is all he really wants, but for Don, if he’s in it you’re in it, and he simply demands the time and respect regardless of if he’s deserving of it or not. I love the way in which Winstone deftly draws out Gal’s inescapable feelings of disarray following the news that Don is coming over to Spain. He doesn’t do it through conventional verbal upheaval but more so facial expression and internalized disbelief. As for Kingsley’s sporadic and profane showcase, it’s simultaneously disturbing and humorous watching Don go from volume 1-11 in the blink of an eye. With lines like “You’re the fucking problem you fucking Dr. White honkin’ jam-rag fucking spunk-bubble”, and the less wordy but equally as smug, “I gotta change my shirt, it’s sticking to me, I’m sweating like a cunt”, you can’t help but laugh at the sheer fuckoffness of it all (had to throw in a Don reference there).
There are unmistakable symbolic beats throughout Sexy Beast, such as the aforementioned boulder rolling nugget in the beginning, as well as several other dream (or more accurately nightmare) sequences and visuals akin to something out of “Donnie Darko”, in which Gal witnesses a demonic bunny looking figure that’s trying to kill him. It’s understandable to an extent because he’s intimidated by Don, but those interpretive cues don’t come together in any theatrical way. There’s an altercation in the third act but at no point does Don really seem as though he’s going to kill Gal – he needs him. The other facet of the film that doesn’t quite satisfy is the heist and the logistics of it. Through channels orchestrated by a business contact Teddy Bass (McShane), a team of men is tasked with breaking into a room full of safety deposit boxes inside a bank. The only way in appears to be via drilling through an underground swimming pool (at least I think that’s what it was) and ballooning the vault with water. It doesn’t seem like the easiest job that Bass could’ve taken on, not to mention there’s no guarantee that the haul is going to be worth the risk (simply because the boxes contain the unknown). As for the crime itself, we don’t get any real details, a look at a plan or even a conversation among parties as to how it’s all going to work. Surely there’d be unforeseen complications with flooding a room? And are we led to believe that in the amount of time it took them to penetrate it no one checked the room? No security on the clock?
Jonathan Glazer’s, Sexy Beast is a delicious little slice of European crime and one that I derived a lot more from upon a second viewing (maybe that’s just maturity). It incorporates lively cinematography, a bright soundtrack, and formidable dialogue in order to provide maximum flavor to what is a pretty simple story. It sets a cracking pace and the pairing of Winstone and Kingsley (who have only ever worked together once since) is something to behold. Each of their characters is highly entertaining and you’ll likely find yourself quoting the film as a result of them. I don’t think the allegory really magnifies the material and the job portion of the film is a paltry afterthought. As it stands, Sexy Beast is still Glazer’s best film to date. Its simplicity comparable to that of a theater production, so if you like your grit chunky, I can highly recommend this one.
Sexy Beast – 7/10