Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, Amanda Redman, Cavan Kendall, Julianne White
MPAA Rating: (for pervasive language, strong violence and some sexuality)
Running Time: 1:28
Release Date: 6/15/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
The British caper movie is given a stylistic rehaul and a metaphorical reevaluation in Sexy Beast. The cornerstones of the genre—snappy dialogue, near-unintelligible accents, and dark humor—are all present, and though the film offers only a slight variation on the genre itself, the differences do provide enough of a fresh take on the typical crime movie to set it apart from the rest. Although the style at times ends up detracting from the storytelling, its central theme of the lure and danger of the criminal life and a villain so perfect at personifying that theme are the propelling force of the film. At the heart of both these elements is a fierce and completely unexpected performance from Ben Kingsley, an actor famous for his gentle persona in such roles as the accountant Schindler’s List and as Gandhi in Gandhi. Here, he shatters that image, and does it with such seeming ease, that his performance is all the more startling.
Gal (Ray Winstone) is a happily retired ex-con living the easy life in Spain. He lives happily with his wife Deedee (Amanda Redman), a retired adult film star, but one day, she gets a phone call that could smash his ideal life to pieces. The call is from Don Logan (Kingsley), and he’s looking to take him on for a job. Deedee didn’t know how to answer his request, and Gal is surprised that news of his retirement hasn’t reached Logan. Without the opportunity to explain his situation to Logan, Gal finds himself in a bind as Logan is on his way to take him along for the job. Logan is the kind of man who strikes fear into the hearts of even the toughest criminals, and a personal visit won’t give Gal any advantage in explaining his newfound retirement. So Logan arrives and does not believe or care that Gal is no longer involved with the life.
The film’s exposition is slow and the dialect is thick, even for those accustomed to the Cockney accent. Interest peaks as the characters begin talking about Logan, and then he arrives and from what we’ve learned, a layer of tension runs under the proceedings. Logan takes us by surprise; he isn’t the aggressive gangster we expect. He’s actually quite calm and collective. Assertive, yes, and the passive-aggressive way he counters Gal’s reasoning certainly lives up to the other characters’ descriptions. Logan’s stay turns out to be longer than expected, and the next morning, out of nowhere, he erupts. This is the character we anticipated, but to such an extreme, he’s more than we and the characters feared. Kingsley plays the role with such vibrant exuberance and raw ferocity that the film becomes a study of one man’s effect on everyone around him.
From these roots, Sexy Beast slowly becomes a thriller. When it enters this section, the film becomes more conventional, but the grounding of the Kingsley sections is so solid, there is little reason to complain. First time director Jonathan Glazer infuses the story with a stylized approach. At times, this approach feels unnecessary for furthering the story. On the other hand, the film gives us an odd metaphor—a rabbit-looking creature that occupies Gal’s darkest dreams and fears. The metaphor reiterates the central question—will Logan or someone else get to Gal in one way or another?
It also represents the sexy beast of the title, which leads to the main question most people will ask—what or who is the sexy beast? As tempting as it is to say Kingsley’s Logan, the reality is that the beast is the lifestyle itself. The word "sexy" means primal just as much as it does attractive in this situation. This is a dangerous but alluring profession, and if you aren’t careful, it will get to you—even if you are the baddest of the bad.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.