movie review by
David Gurevich


(© 2001 Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.)

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Sexy Beast

If, like me, you were seduced by the trailer for Sexy Beast, a new British gangster flick, there will be few surprises: stylistically, the film is undistinguishable from the trailer. It is the directorial debut of Jonathan Glazer, previously known for Guinness commercials and Radiohead music videos. The pace is set from the opening shots: a hefty big-bellied Brit named Gal (Ray Winstone of Nil by Mouth) baking in the sun, a lush Mediterranean landscape, an off-screen commentary about the joys of retirement from a solid life of crime – all to a pounding rock'n'roll beat. The Cockney commentary is just ironic enough to telegraph what’s to come: the good life is not all that great – quite boring, actually – and it is about to come to an end.

Despite the MTV-style visual effects, the exposition is pre-MTV conventional: the beautiful wife Deedee (Amanda Redman), the loyal friends Aitch and Jackie (Cavan Kendall and Julianne White), the prole jokes, a swimming-pool mishap (That’s Foreshadowing!), a barbecue on a House Beautiful patio – we got it, we got it, Fast Forward! Finally, the action proper starts. The Call from London. Don Logan.

Again, the insertion of the Don Logan character will not make your jaw drop – not if you have seen The Usual Suspects and wondered who Keyser Soze was. What screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie did in masterly bits and pieces in The Usual Suspects, Glazer’s screenwriters, Louis Mellis and David Scinto, simply pile up and forget to slice. You’ll see fear and loathing and more fear till you drop on your knees and beg that the terrifying Don show up already.

Fortunately, Don (unlike Soze) does show up. Of course, Glazer can’t help hedging his bets with a pounding rock score. As if he has to. As performed by Ben Kingsley, Don Logan don’t need no poncey score. He is the score.

By now, Mr. Kingsley has reached the ultimate peak of acting profession. The man can play anything, from Gandhi to Wiesenthal to Schindler’s accountant – and before that, 15 years’ worth of stage parts with the Royal Shakespeare Company. If Sexy Beast lacks the subtlety and the grandeur of Hamlet, we don’t care. Kingsley can play Don Logan as broadly as he wants, and you still can’t take your eyes off the screen. Dressed plainly, Kingsley’s Logan has a short wiry body and a shaven bird-like head – yet he manages to project the intensity and the menace of a psychopath ten times his size.

You see, Logan has arrived to recruit Gal for the Last Big Job – the raison d’etre of hundreds of other gangster flicks. Gal is not dying to leave the Costa del Sol delights for "the toilet" he calls London – this we already know. But Don is not the kind of a guy you say No to and live happily ever after. What follows is a bravura performance (inadvertently helped by the mediocrity of the rest of the film). A pint-sized dynamo, Logan alternately threats and cajoles, backslaps and rabbit-punches, and he delves into the happy foursome’s history (he slept with Jackie and has something to say about Deedee’s past as a porno actress). He’s a cockney Richard III from the East End gutters. The dialogue is pure Harold Pinter – laconic and absurd – but what would not have been funny in Pinter comes out as funny in Sexy Beast.

Alas, as per the script, Logan is a supporting character who just happens to outshine everyone else, and so he must depart – and he takes the rest of the film along with him. Once he is gone, it is a Bank Job, done strictly by the numbers, with modern-day trimmings: the team drills their way inside the bank vault from a bathhouse, which allows Mr. Glazer to indulge in some fancy underwater photography. The ending, handled by Ian McShane in a Mr. Big part that is as throwback as his coal-black toupee, is predictably noir.

To be objective, I should add that Mr. Glazer tries to beef up his paper-thin story with additional content – Gal’s hesitation about taking the job is motivated largely by his attachment to his wife -- but the middle-age marital tenderness, though well-acted, seems more like an afterthought, something thrown in at a story meeting as the authors thrashed about to humanize their characters. This director’s heart is in quick cutting between shots of bloody bodies and men in scuba gear drilling underwater. His next project should be Kursk! – the Story of a Nuclear Submarine. Once you have seen what happened to Kingsley’s character (half an hour or so before the end), you can go home, praying Don Logan does not come after you.

[rating: 2½ of 4 stars]