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SEXY BEAST(director: Jonathan Glazer; screenwriters: Louis Mellis/David Scinto; cinematographer: Ivan Bird; editors: John Scott/Sam Sneade; cast: Ray Winstone (Gal), Ben Kingsley (Don Logan), Ian McShane (Teddy Bass), Amanda Redman (Deedee), Cavan Kendall (Aitch), Julianne White (Jackie), Álvaro Monje (Enrique), James Fox (Harry); Runtime: 91; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2001-UK)
“It’s a film that discourages thinking…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The emptiness of this film and why its story is so unsatisfying in comparison with its caustic acting and rollicking photography is because the English director, Jonathan Glazer, comes to filmmaking in his debut feature from music videos and television commercials; he has succeeded only in making a violent film that is ugly below its surface beauty. It’s a film that discourages thinking and aggressively forces one to revel in the forceful acting jobs going on by the over-the-edge performance by sociopath Ben Kingsley and the understated ones by retired nice guy thief Ray Winstone and brazen mobster boss Ian McShane. In the end, the performances don’t mean much because the story doesn’t amount to anything.

Gal (Winstone), who I gather is the sexy beast, is a retired London East End thief living a relaxing life of luxury in his villa in Spain’s Costa del Sol. The heavyset, fortysomething, jewelry chain wearing hood is living with former bad girl Deedee (Redman), someone he loves as much as a rose loves water. Guests at his villa are his London underworld friends — Aitch (Kendall) and his girl Jackie (White). The highlight of the villa, which is in a remote area, is the swimming pool maintained by houseboy Enrique. When a boulder comes tumbling down from the hill above the house and just misses Gal and lands in the pool, the gangster’s tranquility is only momentarily shaken. After all, he got out of the toilet he considers England to be and has found peace in the hot Mediterranean climate.

The film’s plot centers on Gal’s ex-boss, a person who inspires fear, Don Logan (Kingsley), who calls Jackie (someone he had wicked sex with) and tells her to tell Gal that he’s coming to see him because he’s putting together a team for a heist. The thing is Gal is retired and doesn’t want to do the heist, but doesn’t know how to tell this to Don. When the bald-headed Don arrives, he intimidates everyone and goes through a maddening cockney routine of gossip, profanity, menacing threats, and weird jokes. The film could have used subtitles because the cockney was laid on so thick it was almost incomprehensible to this American’s ears.

Don tells Gal, by the side of his now empty pool with the small remains of a boulder still evident after its removal, that Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) has schemed for the last 5 months to heist an almost impossible series of safes–which requires Gal’s underwater talents to crack them open. When Gal wishes to thank him for considering him for the job but nevertheless must say no, Don’s aggressive manner goes to work and Gal is stuck with the familiar dilemma used in many a gangster film: of a weary thief wanting to quit but outside pressures make it difficult to do so.

There’s nothing special or interesting about the story; the film is pretty to look at and moves at a rapid pace due to jump-cuts and fast editing. But what happens is inconsequential and the film gets bogged down in its limitations. There were also several surreal dream sequences, but they seem meaningless and added no weight to the story. It was hard to care about what happens to Gal and his irksome pals and his beloved wife (someone he would do anything for), and it was not possible to care one bit about the Kingsley character. As far as the Kingsley characterization goes, it was too showy of a performance for my taste.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”