Director Jonathan Glazer does such a spectacular job of drawing the audience into the world he creates in the edgy, oily and feral British crime thriller "Sexy Beast" that within moments of its opening -- poolside at a retired bank robber's modest desert villa on the Spanish Costa del Sol -- you may actually start fanning yourself from the 100-degree weather on screen.
It's the kind of vicarious reaction felt over and over again through the course of the movie. You truly understand the intense devotion between the ex-con Gary "Gal" Dove (played by the awesome Ray Winstone) and his aging ex-porn queen wife (Amanda Redman). You savor Gal's utterly relaxed bliss at finally living in a world far, far away from his former life. You feel how much he enjoys the company of pal and former associate Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and his wife (Julianne White), who live near by and often come over for barbecue.
But more than anything, you feel in your bones how completely terrified every last one of them is of Don Logan.
Don was Gal's gangland nemesis before he hung up his guns. Don is one intimidating, scowling, humorless, vicious, dangerous man to cross. Nobody screws with Don, that much is clear even before he appears on screen. Nobody says no to Don, either. But Gal's going to try, because Don has just arrived, uninvited, to his idyllic new home to tell Gal his services are required for one more big heist.
Don is played by the fantastically versatile Ben Kingsley in an ominous and formidable performance that will make you sweat bullets, just like Gal, and be very glad you're on the other side of the movie screen, at a safe distance. Even though his bald sconce and Luciferian goatee make him seem truly sinister, he isn't physically threatening so much as he is a psychological force of nature. When he's in the room, Gal, Aitch and wives go silent, cold and nervous. When Don says, "Where there's a will, there's a way," it sounds like a threat. And when Gal does find the mettle to decline the job, Don decides to stay for a few days, wearing him down with vicious, vehement browbeating and verbal abuse.
The first half of "Sexy Beast" is almost entirely dialogue and savage head games, offset by acute touches of dark humor (Don is something of a malapropist) and Glazer's sun-drenched and lively, yet distinctively film noir photography.
Surprisingly tan and blonde, the middle-aged and normally ruddy Winstone ("The War Zone," "Nil By Mouth") physically embodies Gal's vacillating confidence and flagging determination not to let Don get the better of him. His consternation comes out even more in surreal (OK, downright weird) dream sequences in which he's stalked by a monstrous jackrabbit with an Uzi.
But in the end, for reasons I can't go into without giving away too much, Gal ends up in London after all, helping break into a bank's safe deposit vault by jackhammering underwater through the wall of a steam bath next door.
Glazer's photography becomes dark blue and moody in this second half of the film, reflecting Gal's agitated disposition, which likely has something to do with Don's conspicuous failure to return from Spain. "He phoned me from Heathrow to say he got home safe," Gal keeps telling ring leader Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) -- a ruthless, heavy-eyed criminal type almost as menacing as Don -- who doesn't buy Gal's explanation for a minute.
One of the very few problems with "Sexy Beast" is the lack of psychological backstory to explain why Gal's nerves get so easily rattled. When Don's around, it's obvious. Kingsley is so balefully ferocious in the role that even a static shot of him lounging in a patio chair has a menacing air about it. But this guy is a successful career criminal. How did he get so apprehensive that he can't even lie convincingly about Don's absence?
Another problem for American audiences may be adjusting to the thick Cockney accents sported by the primary characters. But even if you don't catch every word, Kingsley and Winstone are is such rare form that the substance of their conversations are unmistakable.
Some may lump this movie into the Guy Ritchie subgenre of high-octane British gangster capers ("Snatch," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"), but "Sexy Beast" is a much more eloquent and exacting film in which the style is only a function of the substance -- that being the impact of two incredible actors burrowing under the skin of their characters as their characters burrow under each other's skin.
Run time: 89 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th January 2001
Box Office USA: $6.0M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Kanzaman, Filmfour, Recorded Picture Company (RPC)
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 111 Rotten: 18
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Ray Winstone as Gary „Gal“ Dove, Ben Kingsley as Don Logan, Ian McShane as Teddy Bass, Amanda Redman as Deedee Dove, James Fox as Harry, Cavan Kendall as Aitch, Julianne White as Jackie, Álvaro Monje as Enrique
Also starring: Alvaro Monje
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