Dark British crime noir and an Appalachian period piece at the Pageant
Don’t take the title, Sexy Beast, too literally. Jonathan Glazer’s film of that name is partly concerned with sex and beastliness, but it’s really an utterly offbeat gangster film that bends and twists a conventional heist story every which way but loose.
Ben Kingsley looms large in the film’s publicity, and he gives a wonderfully deranged performance in a pivotal role. But the real central figure of the film is an ostensibly retired gangster named Gal (hefty Ray Winstone), and the main action is not the heist itself, but the cockeyed process by which Gal gets into and back out of a crime that he’d really rather not get involved in at all.
Glazer and screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto frame the story with images of indolent and rather comical poolside pleasures in the sunsplashed Spanish villa to which Gal and his beloved DeeDee (a retired porno star played by Amanda Redman) have retired. But the gut of the story has everything to do with Don Logan (Kingsley), a semi-psychotic gangster who bursts in on his former colleagues to recruit Gal for a big job in London. He insists he wants a simple answer from Gal, “yes or no,” but it quickly becomes clear that “no” is not acceptable.
A good chunk of the movie is a tragicomic chamber play, with Kingsley’s Don drifting back and forth between lunatic menace and childlike incoherence, all of it delivered with the erect posture and disassociated understatement that are Kingsley trademarks. It’s almost as if Gandhi had morphed into a repressed sadist with an unhinged gift for the gab.
But there’s also the heist itself, a bizarre underwater burglary, and the means by which Gal and DeeDee resolve their problem with Don Logan (their chums Jackie and Aitch—Julianne White and Cavan Kendall, respectively—have a stake in it as well.). Glazer intercuts these events to great effect, and indeed much of Sexy Beast is edited with the quirky sort of verve that distinguishes Guy Ritchie’s Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
Like Ritchie’s films, Glazer’s has the earmarks of the post-modern Brit gangster flick—snazzy, flip, and violent. But Sexy Beast also has the queasy sense of sleaze that has always set the British crime films apart from tendencies of their American, French, and Japanese counterparts. In this case, however, the film also has a crazed dark humor and a gleefully non-linear attitude toward story to make it extra special.