Saturday 6 July 2019

Movie Review: Sexy Beast (2000)

A crime thriller with comic touches, Sexy Beast rides a wave of profanity in a patchy story of multiple dueling gangsters.

In Spain, retired British criminal Gal (Ray Winstone) is living the easy life with his wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman) and their friends, fellow-Brit couple Aitch and Jacki. After surviving an errant boulder that tumbles into his swimming pool, the out of shape but happy Gal gets a visit from notorious thug Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), who is recruiting a bank vault heist team for a job in London on behalf of mobster Teddy Bass (Ian McShane).

Gal is not interested, but the combustible Don will not take no for an answer, and over two days escalates the pressure and hurls steely insults at Gal, DeeDee, Aitch and Jacki. In the meantime, the ice cold Teddy will have the final say about Gal's fate.

An irreverent peek into the lives of thugs, Sexy Beast collects a cross section of retired and active operatives and throws them into a different kind of conflict. The script by Louis Mellis and David Scinto uses the actual heist as a secondary objective, and focuses attention instead on the personalities of men at different stages in life influencing each other. Gal and Aitch have serenely settled down to a post-work world in sunny Spain, Don is very much still engrossed in plotting the next job, and Teddy is an aging but effective master plotter.

Don's irresistible force methods to pressure and shame Gal into coming out of retirement is the film's centrepiece. First time director Jonathan Glazer comes from the music video world and jacks up Don's level of intensity into the vivid absurd. With Don Kingsley not holding back, this recruiter is more a force of nature than a man. His persuasive communication methods consist of a never ending stream of insults, mercilessly probing his target's emotional weaknesses to achieve the desired outcome.

Don also serves as a catalyst, his re-emergence forcing secrets from Gal's past life into the open and exposing vulnerabilities that either hold ex-cons together or tear them apart.

With every second word of dialogue a profanity, Sexy Beast often slips into stylistic excess at the expense of plot coherence, and the third act starts to sketch in events with minimal explanation. Ian McShane's Teddy Bass is an intimidating presence, his piercing eyes capable of boring into any skull, but Gal is almost reduced to a side observer in his own story as the film rumbles erratically towards a conclusion.

The beasts are human and their sexy days well behind them, but they still make for colourful subjects.

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