Movie Review: Sexy Beast
Even before Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) appears, his presence permeates "Sexy Beast." His name saturates the room with tension and sets its occupants into a quivering sweat.
Like Orson Welles' Harry Lime in "The Third Man" or Keyser Soze in "The Usual Suspects," Don Logan is the Bogeyman. His name unspeakable even on the lips of the devil.
And he's coming.
A noir masterpiece with Oscar-caliber performances, "Sexy Beast" slowly turns up the heat until we squirm with the characters in Don's path.
His path leads to Gary "Gal" Dove (Ray Winstone), a retired criminal who lives on Spain's lush Costa del Sol. Gal shares his peaceful seclusion with his wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman), and their friends Jackie and Aitch (Julianne White and Cavan Kendall), also retired from "the business."
The quartet's nirvana is shattered when Jackie receives a call from Don. There's a job to be done, and he expects a "yes" from Gal. Mob boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) has masterminded a heist of an almost impenetrable high-tech bank. "Where there's a will, there's a way," Teddy says. "And there's always a way."
Don flies from London to Spain with murky motives, some of them involving his past relationship with Jackie but his intention to intimidate Gal into to the proverbial "one last heist" is readily apparent.
Kingsley is ferocious as this psychotic with a Napoleon complex. No mention is ever made of Don's history of violence, nothing is alluded to, but the cast's fear at the sound of his name makes the unmentioned that much more horrible.
First-time director Jonathan Glazer brings Don alive on screen and avoids the temptation to boil him down to a flashy, cartoonish stereotype of evil (the kind prone to appear in Guy Ritchie films such as "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"). Nor does he make him an omnipotent, untouchable criminal. Don is simply an acidic, unpredictable bully with no social skills. Asked a question, he blurts out a one-word answer. He spitefully pees on the bathroom rug and talks to himself in the mirror, a la "Taxi Driver." Don is prone to childish and often violent outbursts in one scene beating Gal in bed when he boils over while waiting for him to wake up.
When Gal declines his offer a third time, Don rages, pacing like a caged animal, shouting "Yesyesyesyes!" He kicks, screams. Then, things go from bad to worse to apocalyptic.
Don is petty, dangerous and utterly human in the hands of Kingsley, who delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. Forgetting his villainous roles in "Sneakers" and "Death and the Maiden," some will contrast the relentless, violent Don with his Academy Award-winning title role in 1982's "Ghandi." But unlike his previous incarnations of evil, Don allows Kingsley to play a true heavy perhaps the most unforgettable movie villain in recent history. And he's in good company.
Best known from dramas directed by other actors (Gary Oldman's "Nil by Mouth" and Tim Roth's "The War"), Winstone brings the flabby Gal once a "sexy beast" in his younger years to the ladies in London to stark relief as an ex-con who has served his time and lives another life. After Don's phone call, Gal is plagued by nightmares of a man-jackal, possibly the devil coming to collect him for past sins a motif that haunts him throughout the film.
Sure, he's a gangster stereotype, a British Tony Soprano right down to the beer belly and gold chain, but Winstone's Gal has been broken. Prison has tightened his grip on life and drawn him nearer to his ex-porn star wife.
Glazer directed videos for Radiohead, Blur and Jamiroquai ("Virtual Insanity") before this feature debut, so it's only natural that his film be infused with music. But unlike films from other video-to-feature directors, this film's gritty, hard-boiled humanism is complemented by its score. Like Martin Scorsese, Glazer has an instinct for music selection and its placement to set the tone for a scene. The UK's electronica collective UNKLE (for whom he directed the excellent "Rabbit In Your Headlights" video) provides much of aural landscape, from Don's jarring introductory anthem to a traveling montage with Gal later in the film.
His attention to detail also marks Glazer as a talent to follow. Between the rapid-fire dialogue of Don's welcome to Spain, the room is so quiet a clock can be heard in the background, relentlessly banging out the seconds. In one scene a bloody bandage swirls in the shower drain, and in another Gal curls up in the fetal position on a hotel bed. These characters are lost in a landscape in which they can navigate only with their own morality or lack thereof.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer; written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto; photographed by Ivan Bird; edited by John Scott and Sam Sneade; production designed by Jan Houllevigue; produced Jeremy Thomas and Denise O'Dell. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release; opens Friday, June 22. Running time: 1:31. MPAA rating: R (pervasive language, strong violence and some sexuality).
Gary "Gal" Dove Ray Winstone
Don Logan Ben Kingsley
Teddy Bass Ian McShane
Deedee Amanda Redman
Aitch Cavan Kendall
Enrique Alvaro Monje
Harry James Fox