[box cover]

Sexy Beast

20th Century Fox Home Video

Starring Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley

Written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto
Directed by Jonathan Glazer

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

Review by Dawn Taylor                    

It seems that whenever the breast-beating begins anew about the decline of the filmmaker's art, a fresh new talent emerges to breathe a little life back into the form. And, like it or not, many of those fresh new faces are coming from the crass, rash and wholly commercial world of music video production.

But then, why wouldn't they? Besides the indie circuit, it's really the only training ground available for developing filmmakers. Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer was previously known as the talent behind Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" video, as well as Radiohead's stylish "Karma Police," and has been lavished with praise for a couple of TV ads he did for Guiness. The eye for striking visuals that made his previous work so successful has served Glazer well in his first feature film — Sexy Beast is sharp, funny, vicious, and altogether brilliant.

Ray Winstone stars as Gal Dove, a hulking brute of an ex-gangster who's living a quiet life, enjoying his ill-gotten gains in a villa in Spain with his wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman) and their friends Jackie and Aitch (Julianne White and Cavan Kendall). His idyllic post-retirement life seems to revolve around marathon tanning sessions in the blazing Iberian heat, until everything literally comes crashing down in the form of a rather unsubtle portent at the beginning of the film — a huge boulder careens down the hillside and lands in Gal's swimming pool. Soon, the other shoe drops in the form of a phone call of Gal's old associate Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), who wants him to come out of retirement to do a job for mob boss Teddy Bass (an underutilized Ian McShane).

Even before he appears on screen, Don's presence is palpable in the way he strikes terror into the foursome as soon as he's mentioned, as if just speaking his name is enough to bring down the fires of Hell. And when he does arrive at the villa, a battle of wills begins between the two men, with Gal trying desperately to hold his ground against the increasingly insistent, and psychotic, Don. The sun-soaked, stark beauty of the Mediterranean setting gives us a good idea of what Gal is fighting to hold onto — having served nine years in prison already, Gal has no intention of jeopardizing the life he's created for himself. The more he tries to convince Don that he's not in shape for this sort of work anymore and that he doesn't need the money, the more noxious and terrifying Don becomes in his frenzy to sway Gal. Besides, Don counters, it was never about the money for them anyway: "It's the charge, it's the buzz, it's the sheer fuck-off-ness of it all. Am I right?"

From the moment we first see Kingsley as Don Logan — striding with grim purpose through a Spanish airport terminal with the determination of a human missile — we understand why he strikes such fear in the hearts of men. He's like a bantam-weight prizefighter crossed with the Prince of Darkness, a barely contained Rottweiler with a goatee. Though not the main character of the piece, Kingsley owns the film, playing Don as an all-out sociopath as he talks to himself in mirrors, deliberately pees on Gal's bathroom floor as if marking territory, throws fits like a homicidal child, and leaps upon Gal and Deedee as they sleep, kicking them and snarling, "I won't let you be happy! Why should I?" This performance is a far cry from the Ben Kingsley of Gandhi. In fact, Don Logan would kick Gandhi's ass just for fun.

Winstone, thankfully, holds his own against this virtuoso performance. An ex-boxer with over two decades of film and TV work under his belt in Britain, he's virtually unknown in the U.S. except to those who may have seen him in Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth, and Tim Roth's The War Zone — or perhaps as Michael Caine's son in the 2001 film Last Orders. Lobster-red with his Spanish tan, slow-moving and thick-waisted, he's thoroughly believable as a retired gangster, deeply in love with his ex-porn star wife and unwilling to give up the plush life he's built. Faced with the Napoleanic fury of Don Logan, Gal's response is more resigned dismay than fear. The haunted look that occasionally crosses Winstone's face tells more about his emotional state that fifty pages of dialogue could do.

What sets Sexy Beast apart from the zillion other films that have used "pulling the crook back into the life" as a premise is the crackling screenplay and Glazer's visual sensibilities, which occasionally venture into the surreal but never enough to become truly obscure. The script, by Louis Mello and David Scinto, has been alternately compared to Mamet (meaning that the characters get mad, say "fuck" a lot, and are engagingly entertaining while they do it) and to Harold Pinter (which means ... actually, I have no idea what that means). The pacing is measured and languid at the film's start, then becomes increasingly frenzied once Don Logan enters the picture, bringing a tangible sense of tension to the proceedings. Sexy Beast stands up as one of 2001's best films, full of humor and horror and dead-perfect performances.

Fox's Sexy Beast DVD features a sharp, pristine anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 and English and Spanish subtitles (North American viewers should opt for the English subtitles the first time around). Features include a 10-minute "making-of" featurette and trailers, while the commentary track with Kingsley and producer Jeremy Thomas is occasionally interesting, but hard to stick with — there are long periods of silence, and much of what the men discuss is exceedingly trivial. But Thomas does share some interesting details regarding the minutiae of filmmaking (like the amount of effort that went into making Kingsley's "urine" appear the right color on film), and Kingsley offers fascinating insights into his creative process. For example: "Acting with one's self in the mirror is something that I've never, never done in my life, and it was very disconcerting to see the monster that I'd created, the monster Don, staring back at me ... the first time I came to the mirror to do that sequence I completely dried up on my dialogue, I was so scared of my own face. That psychopath looking back at me."

— Dawn Taylor

[Back to Review Index]     [Back to Quick Reviews]     [Back to Main Page]

© 2002, The DVD Journal