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A happily “retired” British safecracker (Ray Winstone) is recruited for one last job by his sadistic former boss.
Sexy Beast has little in common with your typical gangster film, which is a compliment. In fact, it feels more like a stage play than a film most of time. Dominated by quiet scenes of characters sharing simple moments of everyday life, you get to bond with them on an emotional level. You get to know them for who they are and how they interact. Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) is enjoying the “retired” life and now resides in Spain. He and his wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman), spend their evenings hanging out with there good friends Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White). At a dinner party one night, Aitch, with his slicked back graying hair, tries to convince Gal that he can get his pool water in various colors, to everyone’s amusement. Later on, they all drink and dance in the moonlight. With the use of voiceovers, Gal muses on his new life and newfound happiness. All seems to be perfect in his world.
In a later scene, Gal and Deedee are waiting for Aitch and Jackie at a restaurant. Gal tells an anecdote about a recent hunting trip and Deedee stares at him and listens. After the story, Gal notices that Deedee continues to stare at him. He asks “what” and Deedee, with a shy smile, shakes her head. A smile creeps onto his face as he looks down at his menu. This moment feels authentic and you’re convinced that these two are deeply in love. The entire first act of the film is the same way—simple moments of happiness and an overall love of life. You wouldn’t suspect that these four characters have such shocking and deviant pasts. All you see are four friends trying to have a good time. All of this makes it all the more chilling when the events of the next few days unfold.
Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) has decided to pay Gal a visit. He wants Gal’s help for one last heist. But Gal is “definitely retired”. Unfortunately, Don doesn’t take “no” for an answer. From the moment his name is mentioned, the audience knows that Don is incredibly dangerous and feared. And from his opening line, we can see why: the guy is completely insane. He’s one of those characters that a person is always making sure they say the right thing to, due to his unpredictability. Aitch is a good example of this fear; he spends most of the film avoiding eye contact and stuttering. Don always seems like he can kill you on a whim. He seems like a man who always gets what he wants.
The scenes with Don prove to by the best of the film. Inferior films would’ve taken Don’s character, have him kill someone within five minutes, and get the audience to fear him that way. But director Jonathon Glazer and writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto are smarter than that. They allow Don and Gal to engage in a battle of wills like two champion chess players. It’s poetry the way these two characters feel each other out in their first scene together. Don feigns interest in Gal’s new life while Gal pretends to be happy that Don dropped by. But both know the truth behind the other’s actions. Don soon gets to the point and explains the new heist, which appears to be fail-safe. But Gal isn’t interested. And Don doesn’t care. He invites himself to stay overnight and continues his manipulation of Gal. But his tactics grow less subtle and more violent as his patience wears thin.
Kingsley’s performance is one of the best performances in years and is, arguably, the best of his film career. No film gangster in recent memory has been more enigmatic, electric, and intimidating. Don Logan could have easily become a caricature, and many actors probably would have channeled their best Gary Oldman or Christopher Walken impersonations. But Kingsley creates a character so sinister and terrifying, and his greatest weapon is his use of silence and moments of inaction. With an unsettlingly intense stare and a carefully spoken sentence, Don seems to always be in control. He’s rarely loud, but when he is you get chills. He’s not even violent often in the film, but when he is, he’s brutal. He’s controlled and calculating most of the time, but when he erupts everyone around is in danger.
Kingsley may steal the show, but the rest of the cast, which includes Ian McShane as the cool and savvy gangster Teddy Bass, give great performances as well. In particular, Winstone’s performance is far more understated but just as effective as Kingley’s. His quiet approach makes him very empathetic, even though he’s far from perfect himself. Jonathon Glazer does a great job of trusting the intelligent script and his talented actors. He doesn’t let the violent content overshadow the character development, which is the biggest issue with most contemporary crime films. His careful balance of contrasting themes and conflicting characterizations prove to be the strength of the film. There are shocking moments of brutality in the film, but are handled so carefully that it’s almost surprising at times that such characters are capable of such acts. Also, he’s not too flashy, though there are moments of unconventional visuals. But these moments only help the film and never distracts. It’s a vibrant film, with bright colors mixed with cold blacks and grays. He also uses some very clever montage techniques that seem to work here when they’ve failed in other films.
“Sexy Beast” is one of the smartest and wittiest neo noirs in ever made. This is a gem that will surely be talked about for years to come. Great dialogue, intriguing characters, and energy galore, this is a must see film for all fan of the genre.