Reviewed by GREG KING
(Fox Searchlight/20th Century Fox)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Stars: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Amanda Redman, Ian McShane, James Fox, Cavan Kendall, Julianne White, Alvar Monje
Running time: 84 minutes.
There has been a fine tradition of hard-edged, in-your-face British crime thrillers (the original Get Carter, Villain, Mona Lisa, Antonia Bird’s little seen Face, Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, etc). The powerful, relentless and jarring psychological thriller Sexy Beast is yet another superb addition to this canon, although it leavens the violence with a nice line in laconic, ironic humour.
For many years, ex-thief and prisoner Gary “Gal” Dove (the always reliable Ray Winstone) has led the good life in his luxury villa on the south of Spain, basking in the sun and enjoying fine wine and food with his wife Deedee (Amanda Redman). But then psychotic enforcer and former partner Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) arrives to coerce him to return to London to carry out one final job, robbing a supposedly secure high tech bank for a shadowy English criminal (Ian McShane). Logan is reluctant to leave his peaceful haven in the sun for the uncertainty of a job planned by criminals he distrusts, but Logan is not the sort of man who easily understands the word “no.”
There is a palpable tension in the battle of wills between Logan and Gal that is eventually lost when the film moves to England. The actual details of the robbery itself are almost secondary to this searing character study, and the second half of the film is somehow less interesting.
Winstone, who is often cast as the heavy plays a more sympathetic character here, and while he has a strong screen presence, he is comprehensively outshone by Kingsley’s searing and memorable performance. By playing a vile, loathsome character who uses profanities and words rather than actual violence to intimidate and terrify his victims, Kingsley permanently leaves behind his image as the peaceful Gandhi. In one of his best performances for years, he has an intense and almost physically intimidating presence that dominates the film. However, when he disappears from the screen, the film seems to lose some of its momentum and power.
First time feature director Jonathan Glazer hails from a background directing commercials and music videos for bands like Jamiroquai, Blur and Radiohead, and he imbues the material with a visually slick and stylishly energetic surface that often deflects from the narrative’s bruising quality and hard edge.