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Savant Short Review:

Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast
Fox Home Video
2001 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 88 min.
Starring Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, Amanda Redman, Cavan Kendall, Julianne White
Cinematography Ivan Bird
Production Designer Jan Houllevigue
Film Editors John Scott, Sam Sneade
Original Music Roque Baños
Writing credits Louis Mellis and David Scinto
Produced by Denise O'Dell, Jeremy Thomas, Mark Albela
Directed by Jonathan Glazer

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Tough, lean, and brief, Sexy Beast is a dead-on portrait of criminals at their most seductively powerful and coarsely brutal. Very much like a short story in its scope and bearing, it drops a vicious villain into a passive group and watches the fur fly. Words may never hurt thee, but Don Logan's words, backed by the monstrousness of which he's so obviously capable, sting like whips. The tension in this show starts high and just keeps tightening.

Synopsis (no spoiler):

Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) is a retired London criminal, living an Idyllic life on a secluded villa in Southern Spain, with his wife Deedee (Amanda Redman), and another couple, Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White). Then Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) shows up to bring Gal in on another heist, and he won't take no for answer. Back in London, top crook Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) is preparing to break into the impregnable vault of Harry's (James Fox) bank - by digging an underwater tunnel. Already a swaggering, crass, abrasive thug, Don turns the heat up on Gal and his intimidated group - pressuring Gal, badgering Gal, lashing out with vicious invectives and uncontrollable violence that promises more. Gal's determined to stay retired, but Don's pushing far, far too hard to be satisfied with any kind of polite refusal ...

Sexy Beast is almost too simple to be so good. Jonathan Glazer's direction is direct - most of the story relies on the characters, their spatial relationships to one another - mostly to Ben Kingsley's Don Logan character. Like a boulder crashing down a mountainside, there's no stopping this wound-up mass of rage and venom: his first introduction, striding through an airport, eyes foreward and every muscle taut, is reminiscent of Lee Marvin's corridor walk in Point Blank.

The drama is a case of irresistable force come up against an immovable object. Gal is a low-rank English mobster who's retired to a Spanish hillside with a woman he dearly loves. He's as contented as can be - getting fat, deeply tanned, and happy to be able to function as an ordinary human with simple human relationships. Except that Don Logan isn't having any of it. Aggressive as a pit bull and confrontational to the point of apoplexy, Don only wants one answer for his every demand - Yes. When he doesn't get it, there's no telling what he'll do. And with the weight of the entire London underworld behind him, Gal can't just tell him to &%#! off and scram.

Naturally, the attraction here is how overwhelmingly intimidating and forceful Ben Kingsley, a relatively small man, can be. It must be sheer acting power, because when he concentrates his eyes become unreasoning x-ray machines.

Director Glazer and his cameraman Ivan Bird stylize the images just enough to give the picture an edge, without toppling into fetish territory. Seen from above, Gal roasts happily on his pool deck, wa-ay over to the left of the Panavision screen. Two shots are never used when one will do - major sequences are sometimes covered from only one angle. The camera also doesn't move a great deal in the confrontation scenes - there's no eye candy to detract from the focus on the characters, who sit and stand in awkward groupings, too cowed by the horrid Don Logan to move. Their reactions and eyes tell it all.

Back in London we see the awful world Gal hopes he's escaped. Only by keeping a completely unflappable cool can Gal survive around killer sharks like Teddy Bass. These mobsters stare through weary eyes that can't relax. They have to stay tight, stay mean to maintain the edge of terror necessary to keep the hoods in line. None of these guys seem to enjoy life unless they're the stupid sort who do what they're told and get drunk afterwards.

Sexy Beast has some classy heist moves. The centerpiece is a robbery that doesn't bother to make much sense, but works in its own dreamlike, underwater way. A dissolute, sagging James Fox (A Passage to India, The Chase) stares groggily at the girls of an orgy, and passively shows Teddy Bass the monstrous chrome vault that's the target for the raid. There are precious few establishing shots of any of the locations, and no chase scenes or narrow escapes. There is no fleeing from these killers, in London or Spain or anywhere else. All you can do is return their penetrating looks with nonchalant innocence and stick to your story ... stick to your story.

There is some fancy icing on the cake, actually, which include some nifty special effects that create a heart-shaped smoke ring, and make it look as though Gal and his wife are sleeping atop the city. Most striking is Gal's dream vision of an animal monster who seems to represent the ferocity of the gangsters he confronts. Kind of a reverse on Raising Arizona's Lone Rider of the Apocalypse, this killer bunny lurks only in Gal's nightmares, until he encounters him in a waking dream as well.

Fox's DVD of Sexy Beast has a nice menu with a perhaps overdone bullet-hole motif, framing lazy shots of Gal speaking to us from his suntanning pose. There's a full-length commentary from Producer Jeremy Thomas and Ben Kingsley, that politely reacts to all the sights onscreen. Kingsley doesn't get into what made his role tick except to compliment the screenplay, and has uniform positive things to say about the other actors that don't become very interesting. Other information might be very welcome to intense fans of this show, such as the fact that the very slick-looking vault set was actually fairly flimsy, with aluminum foil to represent the steel, etc. Savant skipped the featurette, which played as if it belonged in a typical EPK, but enjoyed the classy trailers and TV spot.

Savant also enjoyed the pleasure of a movie that was only 88 minutes long. Instead of trying to impress with an epic vision, the makers of this film 'stick to their story' and let it remain lean and uncomplicated by digressions. One viewing suggestion: unless the English slang spoken in this film happens to be your own, you're going to want to use the English subtitle track. The first time I saw the show, I understood only half of the arcane lingo, and was unsure of the other half!

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Sexy Beast rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary, featurette, trailers, tv spot.
Packaging: Keepcase
Reviewed: February 8, 2002

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