'm starting to wonder if there's been any British movie
that have made it to the States that isn't a crime or heist film! After Lock
Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels,
and Essex Boys,
all crime or caper heist films, my fourth British movie in as many years is Sexy
Beast, yet another British crime/caper film. Besides having the most
unlikely name, Sexy Beast happens to be the best of the lot. It's a
no-holds-barred character film in the guise of a crime film. The movie treats
the heist as an almost secondary plot point, barely important, but just
significant enough to bring the characters together.
The characters and the situation between them are at the
root of Sexy Beast's brilliance. It doesn't hurt that director Johnatan
Glazer is a whiz with the camera, able to blend the frenzy camerawork of Guy
Ritchie with a mastery of characterization and mise-en-scene. Every scene in Sexy
Beast bristles with energy and tension, even when nothing is happening, when
no one is saying a word, or even moving.
The opening scene, of Gal (Ray Winstone
) sunbathing at the pool of his hilltop Spanish villa, is simply
stunning. There is almost no dialogue, and Gal, an overweight retired British
gangster in his '50s, is not exactly an appealing physical specimen of a man.
But the scene literally crackles with electricity, even before a giant boulder
rolls down the hill and nearly crushes the easygoing Gal under its massive
weight. The rest of the movie is shot in similar fashion -- quiet scenes
suddenly jarred with violence of the physical as well as the verbal kind. In Sexy
Beast, what you say or do is almost as dangerous or as violent as what you
don't say or do. Indeed, the characters use stares and words to attack each
other in every way. The physical violence, in fact, seems almost unnecessary
under the verbal and unsaid assaults they use on each other.
The movie's conflict comes in the form of a short, bald,
and goateed mid-level gangster name Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), who has come to
Spain to recruit Gal for the heist job that a high-level gangster has set up in
London. Don not only shatters Don's 9-year exile from the criminal life, but he
brings a secret about Dee Dee (Gal's ex-porn star wife) and Gal's only friends,
Jackie and Harry. Harry was also a mid-level gangster like Gal, and like Gal he
has since retired to Spain to spend his time sunbathing and enjoying life with
his wife Jackie. It seems that years ago, before Harry quit the life, Don had a
one-night affair with Jackie, and it's a night that Don still remembers. The big
secret is that rather he admits to it or not, Don still wants Jackie, and coming
to Spain to recruit Gal is just an excuse to see Jackie again.
gives a tremendous performance as Don, the short-stature and cheap little man
with the bald head, $10 shirt and pants, and bulging artery veins. Don is a
monster in a human body; he is a violent little thug who physically and mentally
bullies Gal and everyone else around him. In short, Don is a despicable human
being, and everyone knows it. One suspects, even Don himself knows it and
dislikes what he is.
Most of Sexy Beast's 80 minute running time is
devoted to Don's bullying of Gal to get him to London to participate in the
heist. The heist itself takes up a scant 25 minutes. Sexy Beast is a
powerful movie and is an emotionally draining one. Nothing happens the way we
expect it to, and it's almost impossible to predict the characters' actions, or
lack of action. It also proves that not all British gangsters have quirky
personalities and funky nicknames, as Guy Ritchie would have you believe.