24 June, 2009

Sexy Beast (2000)

Beast at bay? Er, no…

Jesus Christ! What got Ghandi in such a bad mood? Sexy Beast (2000) was a film I came to very late (eight years late, in fact) and only watched on the insistence of James, who would ideally like me to see every film in the world, as he seems to have, but sometimes I do heed his recommendations, if only to stop him banging on about them. It turns out he was right about this one, though. (Thank you, Colin – JD).

Another London-gangster heist movie, complete with crappy, incomprehensible dialogue and lots of swearing? Well, yes – except the dialogue is not crappy, it is very sharp indeed, and drives most of the film. Incomprehensible? Not if you come from the ’sarf-east’ of England, as I do, but non-native English speakers be warned – do not watch without subtitles. Just another gangster movie? Again, no. It’s a far cry from the formulaic (if fun) Guy Ritchie output.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, hitherto a director of music video for such stars as Massive Attack and Blur, Sexy Beast has all the glossy, slick, scenes and vivid colours of a music promo, but as the bulk of the story is set in a Spanish villa, you could reasonably expect the light to be different from the UK. Indeed, as the film moves to London, the bad light serves as a reminder of why ex-gangsters decide to go and live in Spain, aside from the feeble extradition laws.

I always have a lot of time for Ray Winstone, who takes the lead role in Sexy Beast. He has forged a career similar to that of Sir Sean Connery, in which every part he plays is essentially Ray Winstone. This is not a criticism – he is just the sort of bloke I’d love to have a pint and a chat with – but here, he is very much Ray Winstone.

Gary ‘Gal’ Dove (Winstone) is living the good life in Spain, having retired from the London gangster scene. He’s pretty much got the complete retired gangster kit: trophy ex-porn-star wife, DeeDee (Amanda Redman), money to splash out on restaurants and good living, a nice villa and generally the life of Riley. When he hears from fellow retired mobster Aitch (Cavan Kendall in his last film role) that he’s about to be recruited for ‘one last job’, he and DeeDee get nervous and very, very disturbed. The reason for their panic is that the messenger being sent to persuade him is one Don Logan (Sir Ben Kingsley). Logan is a middle-tier gangster, not quite the big cheese, but not a foot-soldier either. The other thing about Don is that he’s crazy and extremely violent.

As much as I love Winstone, he is totally eclipsed in this by Sir Ben, who of course is famous for his appearance in many costume dramas, Shakespearean move adaptations, Schindler’s List (1993) and, naturally, Ghandi (1982). A more gallant and gentlemanly person you couldn’t wish to meet. It is a testimony to his extraordinary acting skill that he can scare the pants off you in this. He is, in fact, a complete bloody psycho. Anyone who can make hardened gangsters quake with fear is surely a force to be reckoned with - and Sir Ben won the 2000 European Film Award for Best Actor with his work here.

In the scenes in which he appears, Kingsley has the lion’s share of the dialogue. I say ‘dialogue’ but it’s often him ranting a stream of invective and nearly exploding with rage. This is essentially a dialogue-driven movie, although some of the second unit work really stands out – the underwater safe-deposit heist for one.

There are some solid (if a little predictable) supporting roles for Ian McShane and James Fox and more than a little humour, even if sometimes it’s a bit edgy and dark. The one thing that jarred for me a little was the Donnie Darko-style rabbit dream sequences. This was foreshadowed by Gal and Aitch hunting (and completely failing to shoot) rabbits, and I guess it was meant to mean that Gal was being hunted, but it was a bit odd. The rabbit does make a reapperance right at the end of the movie, so keep your eyes peeled. A bit weird but quite amusing.

Overall, a very good watch. If you’re not a fan of frequent, very strong, language, you probably won’t like this, but in my opinion, you’d be missing a good film. I’ll never be able to watch Ghandi again…

Awards: Click here for details.


89 mins.

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