British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer's feature-length debut, Sexy Beast, landed in a big way back in 2000; earning festival acclaim for its brutally simple crime narrative as well as Ben Kingsley's out-there performance as a psychotic master criminal. Kingsley needed Sexy Beast after several years of forgettable roles in box office flops, and his profane, livewire depiction of a truly disturbed individual overshadows everything else in the film. This is both deserved and somewhat disappointing, as Kingsley's co-star, Ray Winstone, is excellent as retired thief Gary Dove. Dove lives a life of leisure in a Spanish villa with his retired porn-star wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman), and is none too pleased when Kingsley's Don Logan shows up to strong-arm him into participating in a risky heist. Sexy Beast is a film stripped to its studs, and is miles away from the heavily plotted crime thrillers of Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn. The deliberate pacing and vulgar script may be off-putting to some, but Sexy Beast is a rare beast that both shocks and entertains.
The film opens on Winstone lounging by his pool in a yellow bikini. The uninitiated may assume his Gary Dove is the typical no-bull tough guy, but, as you'll soon discover, Dove is a big teddy bear. He's retired from safe cracking and loves spending time with DeeDee, his best pal Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Aitch's wife Jackie (Julianne White). In one of several dream-like occurrences, a rogue boulder plunges down a cliff into Dove's pool, signaling impending trouble and nearly flattening him in the process. Things go south quickly when Jackie reveals Logan has contacted her at the behest of London crime lord Teddy Bass (Ian McShane). Logan will be arriving the next day to discuss a job, and Jackie fears he won't be pleased to learn Dove is retired.
It is not surprising that Kingsley's performance gets remembered more than Winstone's in Sexy Beast. His character, as written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, is nothing short of insane. Within minutes of arriving in Spain, Logan berates Dove for being fat, lazy and complacent, and continues his tirade by insulting DeeDee and Jackie, with whom he had a previous relationship. Kingsley is brilliant in the role and plays the character as simultaneously frightening, childlike and sarcastically hilarious. This is a man incapable of reason, and his method for recruiting Dove is to hurl profanities and sucker punches at the slumbering giant while DeeDee screams in protest. In one hilarious scene, Logan and Dove have an intense back-and-forth reminiscent of a toddler arguing with his mother about bedtime. Interestingly, Logan at first avoids using any serious threat of violence to intimidate Dove, but Logan's complete detachment from reality is scarier than any weapon.
Glazer knows when to let his actors carry the film and when to add a bit of flair, which he does midway through, jumping ahead in time and location to London. I won't spoil exactly what brings Dove to an underwater heist, but Sexy Beast has a few tricks up its sleeve. These include the aforementioned boulder, a gun-toting were-rabbit, and a suddenly illuminated neon sign. All three suggest a character's psyche externalized, but whose? Sexy Beast toys with viewers by never committing its characters to a strict arc, so Dove is almost as mysterious as his tormentor. The time-shift is also effective because, even if viewers know what went down in the interim, it's more fun to see it play out in this mixed-up fashion. But again, this is a lean film, and there are no extraneous scenes.
Kingsley's performance is a must-see, obviously, but Winstone and his co-stars are similarly excellent. Winstone shows his character is both annoyed and utterly terrified of Logan, and head honcho Bass is almost an afterthought, which is an interesting twist in itself. A memorable scene suggests that if all parties sat down together they could agree that Logan is the weak link in the criminal enterprise. McShane and Kendall are both slick and surprisingly funny, and I really like Redman and White, both of whom play beautiful women who worked hard to put their emotional baggage in the past. Sexy Beast is not the most accessible British crime thriller to come down the pipe, but it is one of the most unique. Glazer set out to make something different and he succeeded: Sexy Beast recalls a time when great acting took center stage over effects and plot twists.
Twilight Time licensed Sexy Beast from Fox, and the results are not particularly impressive. I wrote last week that I was really impressed with Fox's print for The Driver, also a Twilight Time release. Sexy Beast may be twenty-two years younger than that film, but its high-definition presentation is nowhere near as attractive. The Blu-ray features 1080p/AVC-encoded transfers in both 1.78:1 and 2.35:1 aspect ratios (the latter being how the film was shown theatrically) that don't exactly scream "HD." The most apparent flaw is that the print used for the Blu-ray is incredibly dirty; there are flicks, scrapes, dirt and white circles throughout the film's running time, and it appears no effort was made to clean up the image. I've seem similar problems with other relatively new British films, so perhaps the preservation system isn't as good across the pond. The film is often shot in soft focus, so the movie is never going to be razor sharp, but there are more than a few scenes that look muddy, with ill-defined textures and gauzy detail. I suspect there was some digital scrubbing on the original master, and there's also some edge enhancement noticeable on hair and silhouettes. There are moments when detail and texture are more impressive - most come later in the film - and this is at least a moderate upgrade over the standard definition image. Black levels are relatively good and colors are quite vibrant and nicely saturated. There are no big issues with compression artifacts or aliasing.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is much more impressive. This is an active, immersive lossless mix. Dialogue is crisp and clear (well, outside the thick accents), whether from the center channel or delivered directionally. There are a number of ambient effects that surround the viewer, and action effects really pack a punch. Gunfire rattles the rear speakers and subwoofer, a drill whines throughout the sound field, and the rolling boulder will shake your home theater. The score is also nicely balanced and sufficiently weighty. The disc also offers a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix and English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Twilight Time releases Sexy Beast as part of its "Limited Edition Series," and only 3,000 copies were created. The disc comes in a standard Blu-ray case that includes a multi-page booklet with text and pictures about the film. There is an Audio Commentary with Sir Ben Kingsley and Producer Jeremy Thomas in which the pair discusses the production. It's not a terribly entertaining commentary, and Kingsley is nowhere near as unhinged on the track as he is in the film. There's also a Featurette (7:38/SD) with cast and crew interviews and the film's Theatrical Trailer (1:51/SD). Things wrap up with an Isolated Score Track. Roque Banos' score is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio.
Jonathan Glazer's directorial debut is a lean, hard-hitting crime drama that features standout performances from Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone. Sexy Beast is less showy than its Cockney counterparts, but Glazer knows when to inject dramatic flair into his actors' showcase. Twilight Time's Blu-ray features disappointing picture quality, a great lossless surround mix and a few extra features. On the strength of the film, the disc is Recommended.