Another Look: Sexy Beast (2000)

Introducing, Another Look: 

Instead of doing another Unsung Cinema, I’ve launched another series of articles tentatively titled Another Look. These are for films I watch that doesn’t fit the Unsung Cinema category, especially a movie like Sexy Beast. Sure, you could argue that it is unsung, and in some ways, it is. However, the film received excellent reviews, profited, and saw Ben Kingsley receive an Oscar nomination. So, in that case, I can’t put Sexy Beast in the category of Unsung Cinema. Nonetheless, Sexy Beast deserves another look. Glazer’s film is a captivating British crime thriller with a sharp screenplay by Louis Mellis and David Scinto and an impressive ensemble. Released during a Renaissance of British crime thrillers, which began with Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock in 1998, Sexy Beast nonetheless carves up an original place.

The story revolves around retired safe-cracker Gary “Gal” Dove (Ray Winstone), who has left his criminal life behind and is enjoying a peaceful retirement in Spain with his wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman). Their tranquil life is shattered with the arrival of Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), a vicious and psychopathic former associate who tries to coerce Gal into returning to London for one last heist. The heist is being run by the just as nasty and criminal-savvy Teddy Bass (Ian MacShane), who recruits Don to lure Gal back into the fold. It’s a classic gangster story; we’ve seen these narrative beats before. The criminal just wants to settle down and live a life of tranquility and is brought back into the ruthless world of crime. I believe Al Pacino said something about that in Godfather III. Despite that, Sexy Beast distinguishes itself from other gangster heist thrillers.

The film’s visual style is noteworthy, with Glazer’s innovative direction creating a tense and atmospheric experience. The cinematography and editing contribute to the film’s overall gritty and stylish aesthetic, further enhanced by a moody score and an excellent selection of music. Glazer is a veteran of music videos and commercials. This contributes to a vibe to the picture that grabs you in its trance when you’re on the same level. Glazer knows how to ratchet up the tension and how to evoke mood. It’s wonderfully directed and original-looking, with bouts of surrealness and dream imagery, making this a genuinely unique-looking gangster movie. The soundtrack selection also rocks and is instrumental in putting you in a mindset. This mood setter is immediate in the film’s long, drawn-out brilliant opening sequence with Gal simply relaxing in his villa, then ominously, a boulder from the mountainside comes down and lands in Gal’s pool, almost killing him. Not since Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye has a crime film evoked such an immediate mood setter

Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of the volatile and menacing Don Logan is remarkable, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His chilling performance and Ray Winstone’s subtle yet profoundly affecting portrayal of Gal elevates Sexy Beast beyond an ordinary crime thriller. One of the film’s most important aspects is its character development, with the juxtaposition of Gal’s desire for a peaceful life against Logan’s relentless brutality. There are moments where I shit you not, and you can feel the hair on your back standing up when Kingsley is in the scene. It’s only an 88-minute movie, and Kingsley isn’t in it for very long, but when he’s on-screen, it counts, and it’s uncomfortable, unpredictable, and unforgettable. Sometimes movie characters are undone by a significant build-up they can’t live up to. There’s a substantial build-up to Don, and when he finally appears on screen, we understand why. It’s a masterclass of intimidation and persuasion. Not to mention highly menacing.

Though simple, the plot is well-paced and unfolds with unexpected twists, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. It’s a short movie, but it feels longer, in a good way, than that. There’s a quiet epicness to it. Don’t forget about Ian MacShane, who, if Kingsley weren’t so bonkers, insane memorable, would be taking all the praise. Sexy Beast is a must-watch for crime thrillers and character-driven drama fans. Its outstanding performances, especially by Ben Kingsley, unique surrealist visual style, and engaging plot make it an essential entry and not only one of my favorite British crime films but one of my favorite crime films in general. It’s a film I’ve watched about five times now, and each time it hits better.

***1/2 out of ****

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