‘Sexy Beast’: Jonathan Glazer’s electrifyingly intense British gangster tale

Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone.
Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone

There is an audacious heist at the center of Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast, but there is not much discussion about its planning, the mechanics, where it’s going to take place, how they are going to split up the loot – nothing. It’s merely there as an excuse to show off the explosive and amusing theatrics of the film’s principal characters before it’s executed.

Why? Because this is not a Michael Mann film. However, there is a distinctive rhythm, mood, style and personality to this film that hasn’t been since the 70s or 80s, and which lends the film an eminently rewatchable quality. More priority has been given to character development than anything else. And what actors to play these characters!

The film has two of Britain’s most incredibly talented actors, Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley, lighting up the screen with their intense and perfectly calibrated performances. Winstone plays Gal, a career criminal who has been out of the game for 9 years. He is currently enjoying his retirement in a Spanish hacienda.

Glazer opens the film with Gal lying beside his pool, sun tanning, with The Stranglers’Peaches aptly doing the introductions. He leads a quiet existence with his beautiful wife Deedee, friend Aitch and his wife Jackie giving him company on most evenings. This happy bubble is soon shattered by an unwelcome phone call. It’s Kingsley’s Don Logan who wants Gal to carry out a new assignment.

He lands at the airport and walks through its terminal exactly as how Bob Hoskins did in The Long Good Friday (my favorite Brit gangster film) – possibly an homage. Now, what Kingsley does with this role is absolutely remarkable. We’ve never seen Kingsley do something like this before. Logan is demented, unpredictable and possibly schizophrenic. When Gal declines him, he can’t believe his ears. He goes ballistic!

It’s amazing to see the actor who played the soft and kind-hearted confidante of Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List exhibiting a range here that is as unexpectedly shocking as it is astonishing. He is like that uninvited guest in your house that makes everyone present there claustrophobic. His gaze exerts a strong grip over you and you find yourself unable to leave without upsetting him. The guest sort of becomes the host and you wonder if you have to ask his permission to even lift your finger.

The words that come out of Logan’s mouth are like broken shards of glass that wildly ricochet off all the four walls in a room and leaves crimson marks all over your body. And Gal is trying so hard to conceal all his anxiety behind a mask of feigned confidence which Logan can rip apart any minute. However, it soon becomes obvious that Logan is wearing one himself to mask his own insecurities. He has way too many issues. Watching Winstone nicely complementing Kingsley’s effortless performance is a wonder to behold.

Louis Mellis and David Scinto’s script is sharply witty and has a sparkling quality to which is reminiscent of the scripts of David Mamet, while also finding the space to accommodate some Lynchian imagery in the form of few surreal dream sequences. Ian McShane shines in a supporting role as Logan’s confident, intimidating and eccentric boss. Sure, the performances are all fabulous but I would be remiss if I did not mention something about the editing. It keeps the film short, concise and flowing smoothly.

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