Gal (Ray Winstone) is a retired hoodlum whose idyllic Spanish lifestyle
is rudely interrupted. His past catches up in the form of Don (Ben Kingsley),
a former gangster-acquaintance demanding his return for that perennial
'one last job'.
This well-worn premise is enhanced by the claustrophobic dynamism of the
encounters between Gal and Don, the scale of the various plot twists,
and the surreally inventive method the gangsters eventually use to commit
The verbose expletive-laced exchanges between the characters are threatening
but often hilarious, and while we may recognize these furious duels from
early Tarantino, they possess a spicy originality.
Sexy Beast is a world away from those British gangster films that seek to
emulate by sheer plagiarism; style without substance has relegated many
a pale imitator to the floor-level video shelves. From its audacious
introduction, a sweat-glistening, trunks-sporting Gal, sun-baking to the
strains of The Stranglers' grungy 'Peaches', via plummeting rocks,
gangland slayings, to final resolution, this film is head and shoulders
above recent stablemates.
Winstone takes another side-step away from his more-familiar blustering
East End menace to portray a complex villain, capable of poignant tenderness
with the woman he loves, but emotionally scarred by his former role in
a London Firm.
His fragile courage in hiding a truth that would cost him his life, for
the sake of everything he holds dear, is way beyond the thuggish slapstick
of so many gratuitous also-rans.
Readman has never looked or acted with more radiance. With penetrating
sapphire blue eyes beneath jet black, she excels as the proud lover ready
to stick up for Gal; but, like so many fugitives from an unsavoury past,
all too easily unraveled.
Ben Kingsley's hood is so far removed from his Gandhi that light would
take years to travel between them. Playing courageously against type,
his wiry shaven-headed fiend skirts a fine line between dark comedy and
psychopathic danger. Within a handful of black-tongued volleys he launches
articulated threat to dizzying new standards. You sense Don would
intimidate most of the Corleones.
Ian McShane, head of the London crew, fills the screen with a more
introverted, but remorselessly dripping evil.
The sparseness of the Spanish brush is a perfect arena. Beneath the
relentless sun the expats cluster around azure hacienda pools, or lounge
by cocktail bars, plotting schemes and facing retribution. The eventual
robbery is almost beautifully surreal.
In a movie where the bodycount is kept mercifully to single digits, the
characters are given free rein. An air of tension hangs over the
claustrophobic proceedings. Although there are several fantasy sequences
involving a giant gun-toting hare which are unnecessary distractions,
Sexy Beast is firing on all cylinders without leaving a trail of anonymous
Copyright © 2001 Mark Fleming