Sexy Beast
directed by Jonathan Glazer
(20th Century Fox, 2000)

No sooner has the retired English heist man risen from his chaise longue beside the pool at his hillside villa in Spain than a boulder breaks loose from the mountain above, barrels down the slope, ramps into orbit and flies over his head, crashing and splashing into the pool beyond.

But the boulder is just one of two seemingly unstoppable forces this guy named Gal has to face before Sexy Beast comes to its nail-biting climax 88 minutes later.

The second and far more formidable force comes in the guise of a house guest from hell, a demonic blast from a past Gal would much rather relinquish than relive. It's Don Logan, a London-based hood and henchman who's in Spain to make Gal take back the words "I'm retired." And he's not prepared to take no for an answer.

Sexy Beast is an unusual heist film on several levels.

It opens and closes with some of the funniest footage ever captured on film -- you have to see this boulder to believe it -- but between those scenes lies some of the scariest, most spine-tingling stuff you'll ever see. What's more, it's a film without a good guy in sight. Sexy Beast rejects the classic face-off of good and evil for a more intriguing war of wits between the bad guys -- Logan (Ben Kingsley) and his boss, Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) -- and the not-so-bad guys, Gal (Ray Winstone) and his companion, Deedee (Amanda Redman) and their friend Jackie (Julianne White).

Most importantly, however, the film focuses more on the lengths Logan will go to get Gal back in the mob than on the heist itself.

To say Kingsley pulled out all the stops in bringing Logan to the screen is to commit serious understatement. And very little of what happens in Sexy Beast qualifies as understatement, especially while Kingsley's on screen.

Kingsley's very appearance is unnerving -- more bestial than sexy, to be sure. He looks like an uncomfortable cross between Vladimir Lenin and G. Gordon Liddy, assuming such a thing is possible.

Yet his actions are even scarier: he rants, he raves, he packs more profanity per square phrase than any six Eddie Murphy-wannabes. He takes verbal hostility to new heights and lows, and when that fails, he gets downright nasty.

No weapon is beyond his reach: a cigarette, a drinking glass, a trumped-up charge of sexual harassment. When those fail, he's willing to dredge up Deedee's past in porn films or Jackie's as his lover.

Coming from anyone else, such a performance would likely be over the top; coming from the man who gave us Gandhi, it's right where it has to be to do what it needs to do: make sympathetic characters of Gal and Deedee and turn Sexy Beast from a violent crime drama with a comic streak into an edge-of-your-seat exercise in "who do you trust?"

If there's a problem in Jonathan Glazer's film, it's the thick English accents, none of which come from Masterpiece Theater. It's a challenge for those of us on this side of the ocean, especially in the opening scenes, to get a handle on what people are saying and, consequently, on what they're up to.

That problem fades quickly, however, once Kinglsey appears. Then body language becomes as important as the dialogue. And what Logan's torso says, you can't miss.

Sexy Beast is a lot of things: a suspenseful heist film, an insightful interpersonal drama, a parable of man's inhumanity to man and an exercise in perfectly timed sight gags and laugh-out-loud visual humor. Most of all, though, it's one amazing film, and one performance you'll never forget.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]
Rambles: 5 October 2002

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