"Sexy Beast" is the debut film from British commercial director Jonathan Glazer. Tucked back in the smallest auditorium (which consisted of 88 seats, which was fitting since the movie plays for about 88 minutes or so) of an 18-screen theater like a hidden gem, this film-festival favorite has been playing for a couple of months to good word-of-mouth and solid box office for independent fare. Although not without a few problems, "Beast" does present an amazing platform for two exceptional performances, both of which could be up for awards consideration.
The movie begins with a retired gangster named "Gal"(Ray Winstone) relaxing by his pool somewhere in Spain. He's retired from mob life. Although he says that he's not exceptionally wealthy, his house is quite luxurious and he seems to be living comfortably - his physical appearance also indicates that he's been eating well since the criminal life, as well. It can't go this well forever, can it? In an indicator of things to come, he's standing by his pool one day when a gigantic boulder comes roaring down the hill and misses him by about half an inch. Later at dinner, his associate announces that Don Logan is coming in to ask Gal to pull off another job for him. The mere mention of Logan's name inspires chills from those around him in the same way that Keyser Soze's did in "The Usual Suspects".
And when we see and hear Logan, we understand why. Ben Kingsley, head shaved and eyes dark and intense, comes into the room and without a word, announces that he will have the last word. He wants Gal to pull off the job and will not take no for an answer. During one darkly amusing sequence, the two argue like schoolchildren, simply screaming "Yes!" or "No!" into each other's faces. Although eventually Gal gets Logan to leave, an incident on the airplane out keeps him in Spain and it's only a matter of moments before he's back at Gal's house, completely explosive.
A suprising plot twist adds a stunning amount of tension to the proceedings as Gal finally finds himself heading in for his one last heist, a job that requires them to go underwater through an ancient steam bath in order to get into the bank vault in a beautifully filmed sequence. Certainly, visuals are not where the film comes up lacking as the scenery is often beautiful and Glazer's visual style is agressive, but not as intense and rapid as some of the other commercial directors that have made a splash in the industry in recent years.
I've mentioned the performances of the two leads and they are certainly stellar - Kingsley is fantastic and Winstone does a similarly impressive job not being trampled on by Kingsley's showy performance. Supporting performances are fine as well, including Amanda Redman and Julianne White as the wive's of Gal and his associate and Ian McShane as Teddy, the crime boss in control of the job. The only problem that I had with the feature are a few very brief sequences that slightly drag. Although the majority of the 88 minute picture rockets by, there were just a few points that stopped the rapid pace. A few moments of comedy are thrown in to keep things from going too dark, but it really didn't need it; it's a crime thriller about tough, gritty folks.
Overall, aside from a few minor bumps, "Sexy Beast" is often a riveting crime drama that showcases two performances that really deserve notice, especially Kingsley's rapid-fire Don Logan, one of the more intimidating and threatening villians that I've seen on-screen in quite a while.
VIDEO: "Sexy Beast" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (the box mistakenly states that the film is 1.85:1). The presentation, while very good, does fall a bit short of the usual standards of the studio. Sharpness and detail are certainly not problematic, as the film remained crisp and well-defined at all times.
The main problem was not a major one, but a bit unexpected, given that "Sexy Beast" was only in theaters last Summer. There are some print flaws - a mark here, a slight scratch there - that do show up on occasion. While some sections are free and clear of such problems, others are not. Otherwise, there wasn't much else in the way of distractions; slight edge enhancement was visible once or twice and no pixelation was seen. The film offers a fairly subdued color palette, which looked accurate and problem-free here. This is generally a very nice transfer.
SOUND: "Sexy Beast" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack often folds up for quite a few dialogue-driven sequences, but the film does have its more agressive moments. Surrounds do come in quite nicely for the music, as well as occasional sound effects and ambient sounds. The music came through with solid presence, adding to the energy of the scenes. Dialogue remained clear and easily heard throughout, although some may have trouble with the accents at times.
MENUS: The main menu contains slight animation. There's also transitions between menus, but the sub-menus remain static.
Commentary: This is a commentary from actor Ben Kingsley and producer Jeremy Thomas. The track starts off rather slow and never really gains very much steam, unfortunately. The two discuss what they enjoy in the film, only occasionally going into more depth to talk about the history of the production or what happened on-set. It would have been nice if the commentary also contained the perspective of director Glazer, given that this was his directorial debut.
Also: 7 1/2 minute featurette, trailer, international trailer, international TV spot and trailers for "Super Troopers", "The Deep End" and "Waking Life".
Final Thoughts: "Sexy Beast" is a superb directing debut for Jonathan Glazer. The film contains terrific performances and a lot of tension, especially in the second half. Fox's DVD edition does provide good audio/video and a group of fairly interesting supplements. For those who are already fans of the film, the DVD is well-worth a look and for those who haven't seen it, it's highly recommended as at least a rental.