SEXY BEAST directed by Jonathan Glazer; Film Four International, 2001

Jonathan Glazer's directorial debut (previously working in the commercial and video field) is a real corker and honestly, I can't think of a film in recent memory that succeeds in rattling the viewer's cage in such a succinct way.

The premise is simple: Gal (Nil By Mouth's, Ray Winstone) is a retired career criminal living the life of sloth with his ex-porn star wife down on the coast of Spain (Costa del Sol). Though he's not immediately aware of it, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley in a role that shall forever obliterate the Ghandi typecast) is on his way to recruit Gal back to London for “one last heist.” If you've seen the trailer for the film let's just say the boulder that rolls down an adjoining ridge, above Gal's head, and into his prized swimming pool is no small omen.

The first half of the film deals in psychological build-up: Gal, his wife, and their friends sit around the dinner table, visibly agitated, fearful from the recent news informing them that a very unwelcome guest will be joining their ranks—one they all know from “the life.” The acting here is first rate; a lesser ensemble would not make you squirm in your seat the way this one does. The staged dread is so palpable you sweat right alongside the characters on screen.

Third act, enter Don Logan. Logan's not in Costa del Sol to take “no” for an answer and Kingsley's portrayal here is so convincing that it is nothing short of a brass knuckle rat-a-tat to the back of your noggin'. (I dare not spoil the rest of it for you.)

Sexy Beast is a film that succeeds in fully immersing its viewer, artfully blurring the lines of distinction between fact and fantasy to the point where you forget the outside world for eighty-eight minutes—escapism in its purest form.

Sure, Sexy Beast has its minor flaws. The ultimate heist in London, conceptually, albeit a brilliant little piece of originality, serves only as something of a pleasing after-dinner mint in contrast to the first half of the film's wind-up. Then eventually we are brought to Beast's coda, which, despite its judicious twist, is a mere whimper when juxtaposed with Logan's tornado-like wake of terror from the film's center. The only solace comes in the form of a madly exhaled sigh of relief when the end credits roll.

While Sexy Beast is less intellectually subtle then say Mamet's Glengarry GlenRoss, the two films are similar in their clarity of vision: both penetrate the earth that exists under the rocks and soberly examine the life-forms that live there. And in the case of either film it is an examination of the violence men will impose upon each other, the pain and retribution they choose to extract from one another, and more often than not, the cruelty they ultimately inflict upon themselves.

A recent review of the film in the Chicago Reader lamented the possibility that cinematic noir has done little to advance its form over the last 30 or more years. After reading that little piece of poppycock I was left wondering, “what movie did you see, Jocko?”

Winstone and Kingsley both deserve Oscar nods here at the very least.

-Peter Davis

AMAZON

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