In the gangster film THE GODFATHER, PART III, Michael
Corleone utters the memorable line: "Just when I thought I was out,
they pull me back in!" In a way, that sentiment is at the heart of
SEXY BEAST, another in a spate of British gangster films. While the
genre is flagging (for every LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS
there has been a LOVE, HONOUR & OBEY), this film proves to be a smart
amalgam of cliché and brilliance. First-time feature director Jonathan
Glazer lends a quirky style to the proceedings, working well with a script
by the writing team of Louis Mellis and David Scinto (who covered similar
ground in their stage play that was the basis of the film GANGSTER NO. 1).
The plot is hoary: a criminal is asked to come out of retirement for "one
last job." It's the twists and turns and the oddball casting that keeps
this film intriguing for the audience.
As the film opens, Gary 'Gal' Dove (Ray Winstone) is poolside in
his Spanish villa sunning himself. Wearing a tiny yellow swimsuit, the
fleshy Gary is at once imposing yet oddly comical. If he were a bit
brighter, he might also recognize the portents around him, particularly
a boulder that rolls down a hill, barely misses him and crashes in his
swimming pool. Thinking he's immune to harm -- after all, he left
London and his life of ill-gotten gains -- Gary carries on in an oblivious
manner. His wife Deedee (Amanda Redman) arrives home and it
becomes clear that there's a palpable heat between them despite
the fact that neither is a teenager. When not broiling in the hot sun,
Gary passes time rabbit hunting with his pal Aitch (the late Cavan
Kendall) and his poolboy (Alvaro Monje). This past-time leads to a
weird, recurring motif of dreams and hallucinations of a life-size,
gun-toting rabbit chasing Gary, the one sour note in the film's execution.
Gary's placid world is soon disrupted by the arrival of former
colleague Don Logan (Ben Kingsley in a galvanizing turn), a fast-talking,
irreverent Cockney who seemingly does not understand the meaning of
the word "no." Logan informs 'Gal' that he's been sent by the boss,
Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), to convince 'Gal' to return to London to help
with a sure bet heist.
Politely, 'Gal' declines, but Logan continues his assault on Gary
and his wife until matters reach a shocking conclusion. Director Glazer
utilizes his music video background to sketch out these events as well
as employs flashbacks, flash-forwards and other editing techniques.
(There are reports that Glazer and his first editor did not mesh and he
hired a second team that was more simpatico to his ideas. As it is
SEXY BEAST flows along at a brisk pace.)
What makes the film most interesting, though, are the
performances of Winstone and Kingsley. The former has been well-cast
as unflinching tough guys, most notably in NIL BY MOUTH,
THE WAR ZONE and AGNES BROWNE. Here, while still essaying a
man on the wrong side of the law, Winstone underplays. He becomes
the quiet center of the film around whom Kingsley's Logan buzzes.
For his part, Kingsley alternately has excelled at noble men (the title
role in GANDHI, Itshak Stern in SCHINDLER'S LIST and Otto Frank
in the ABC miniseries ANNE FRANK) or out and out villains (Meyer
Lansky in BUGSY). Logan is merely another in his gallery of the
latter. Cast against type, Kingsley is fascinating to watch and
dominates his scenes. But, his presence is perhaps too much; the
film can barely hold this larger-than-life character.
Glazer opts to make the last third of the film somewhat
hallucinatory (there's a fantastic underwater sequence of the heist
that is quite surreal), both in tone and in the editing. In the end,
like Michael Corleone, Gary Dove finds that there is no escape,
no saying "no thanks" to men like Teddy Bass. But, like the
Godfather, 'Gal' Dove manipulates people and events to suit his
own agenda, proving indeed to be a SEXY BEAST.
Rating: B +
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, strong violence
and some sexuality
Running time: 89 mins.
|© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.