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Sexy Beast

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Sexy Beast

Starring: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Rated: R
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: June 2001
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Ian McShane, Amanda Redman, James Fox, Cavan Kendall, Robert Atiko, Julianne White

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If you're a fan of flawless acting by some real pros, of noir thrillers pitting one man against his temperamental opposite as Harold Pinter did in "The Caretaker" and "The Birthday Party," pull up a chair. "Sexy Beast" proves that not all mobsters are alike: that there is honor among some thieves but not among others. The action centers on a series of tense confrontations between Gal Dove (Ray Winstone), a paunchy, gone-to-seed hoodlum who has served time in the pen and has retired to the Spain's Costa del Sol, and the vicious, psychopathic Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), who has been planning a major heist and is determined to take Dove out of his comfortable retreat and back to London to give the kind of assistance only he can provide for the job. Watching this clash between a relatively meek ex-con and a malevolent thug, I couldn't help thinking, "Hey, wouldn't it be great if I had a skill that virtually no one else possessed so that scores of employers would come to me to seek out my help instead of my having to grovel at the desks of those insipid human resources people!"

"Sexy Beast" opens slowly, casually, giving us a brimming impression of the life of semi-luxury that Gal Dove is leading. Though he could probably use the money offered to him for the bank job, he's doing pretty well, inhabiting a villa with his wife who was once in the sex trade, Deedee (stage actor Amanda Redman), employing a boy for general work around the house, a lad with whom he enjoys a close and kindly relationship. When Gal's friend Aitch (Cavan Kendall) arrives with his wife Jackie (Julianne White), he conveys a fearful message. Don Logan is on his way to convince, nay compel, Dove to assist in a job being planned for five months with the help of a corrupt bank manager, Harry (James Fox) and with the overall leadership of Teddy Bass (Ian McShane).

Director Jonathan Glazer builds his story carefully, stone by stone we could say, as the first sign we get that Dove's cozy life may be coming to an end occurs when a giant boulder springs loose from the surrounding hills almost killing Dove before the rock lands in his pool. From then, the plot kicks in powerfully, as Gal Dove repeatedly refuses to leave his villa to do the job while the psychopathic Logan, cursing almost incessantly and echoing "no, no NO, no no," ups the ante--resulting in a bloody engagement in the living room of the well-hidden estate.

Director Glazer does an impressive job cutting from the London bank job--which involves four hours of underwater drilling beneath the institution--to the violent showdown at the Costa del Sol; in fact I can't remember seeing such an awe-inspiring show of editing in any other thriller in recent years.

Much has been said about Ben Kingsley's ability to terrify: one critic in fact bewailed the nightmares that Kingley gave him for several nights thereafter, spouting dialogue as spare as his bald head as though returning to London unaccompanied would mean not only scrapping the job but serving as well as a blow to his ego. But Ian McShane in the role of Teddy is even more frightening. Alternately good-spirited and nasty, comforting and theatening, he keeps the audience on the edge of their seats wondering just what he is going to do with Dove as he gives him a lift to the airport.

The principal flaw is language. We sit in our seats perhaps wondering whether we'd be better off seeing this film in French or Italian or even Urgo-Altaic: at least we would then get subtitles. While the particular accents are not of the Scottish variety heard in "Trainspotting," they are not the king's English either. If only these hoodlums were from Nebraska! "Sexy Beast," then, is appropriately savage, humorous, theatrical and downright scary: the British gangster genre is almost redeemed after a flood of faux-hip entires like "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels."

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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