Ian McShaneRay WinstoneBen KingsleyAmanda Redman
Sexy Beast
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writer: Louis Mellis, David Scinto
Keywords: Oscar-nominated, gangster
Country: UK, Spain
Actor: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, Amanda Redman, James Fox, Cavan Kendall, Julianne White, Alvaro Monje, Robert Atiko, Nieves del Amo Oruet, Enrique Aleman Fabrega, Gerard Barray, Jose Maria Cano Ramos, Desiree Erasmus, Santiago Frias Munoz
Format: 89 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0203119/
Website category: Oscars
Review date: 24 August 2010
It's a British gangster film, or more accurately a retired gangster film. Ray Winstone's an ex-crook living in Spain with absolutely no desire to go back to cold, wet England for any reason whatsoever, let alone doing one last job. Unfortunately Ben Kingsley's about to help him change his mind.
Firstly, it's pretty good. It's portraying its rather unpleasant characters and their world very well indeed, never giving you even a moment's reason to doubt. It feels honest. In fact I think it's one of those flawless films, in that I don't think there's anything it does wrong. I can imagine someone not enjoying the experience of spending time with these people, but that doesn't make this a bad movie. On the contrary, in addition to Ben Kingsley winning a ton of Best Supporting Actor awards, including an Oscar nomination, the film also won Best Director and Best Screenplay from the British Independent Film Awards and Special Recognition ("For excellence in filmmaking") from the National Board of Review.
That said, it's got that rather stolid pacing you often get with British films of that era, in which it feels as if it's still got one foot in either TV or the theatre. You couldn't accuse it of being plot-driven. It's primarily a character piece, in which Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley and Ian McShane prowl around each other like jackals. What makes it work is the fact that all three of those are excellent actors who've been given a lot to play, with both Kingsley and McShane managing to pull off the downright scary challenge of convincingly terrorising Ray Winstone. Admittedly Winstone's doing a lot of the hard work for them, with his deceptively impressive performance as a villain gone slightly soft who'd sooner cut off his left nut than get involved with all these psychos again, but underneath all that, he's still Ray Winstone. Would you want to mess with him? No. Are we under even the slightest illusion that he's a nice guy? No. Does he keep you watching despite all that? Hell, yes.
Kingsley's the most interesting casting here. (They also considered Anthony Hopkins.) There are a lot of tough men in this film, the kind of people you'd probably move house to avoid, but Kingsley's a different physical type. He was Gandhi! He was the accountant in Schindler's List. He's not scary because he's big, but because he's a bit stupid and viciously uncontrollable. Kingsley claims he based a lot of the character on his grandmother and in a counter-intuitive way I think I can see that. These people are not conversationalists. Kingsley talks like someone in an old folks' home. He has simple thoughts that don't quite fit together and you can't really expect rational behaviour from him. His stated objective frankly doesn't make sense, since Winstone clearly doesn't want to do the job and as such would surely be a liability once they'd got back to London, but that's all of a piece with Kingsley's bloody-mindedness. The guy's a mad dog.
Playing this role made Kingsley as meek as a baby, apparently. He'd exhaust himself of anger and tension on set.
The title intrigues me. There's nothing sexy or even attractive about these people, despite a brief orgy scene, but on reflection I think it's not inappropriate. Both "sexy" and "beast" are primal words. They suggest something driven by basic drives rather than intellect, which sums up these gangsters rather nicely. Admittedly Ian McShane's character is a bit smarter than his stooges, but that doesn't mean he's any less driven by sex and violence. It just means he's more aware of, say, fingerprints.
I do wonder about that Spanish boy at Winstone's villa, by the way. Winstone's character is devoted to his wife, but the film's opening sequence has him putting an ice-water cloth on his crotch as a young lad in trunks cleans the pool and we hear a misogynistic song with strong sexual overtones on the soundtrack. I don't think we're meant to think that there's anything going on, but it's attention-grabbing subtext.
At the end, there's also a bit with the devil. Yes, Satan.
This isn't the kind of movie that invites mile-long reviews. It's exactly what it looks like. Heavyweight actors being thugs at each other. Ben Kingsley's is the most startling transformation, but everyone here is impressive. Is it entertaining? I don't know about that. It's reasonably compelling, if that's an answer to the question. It's got that British movie simplicity to its storyline, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. At least you're more likely to liken it to the theatre than to call it jumped-up TV. I don't know if I'd ever want to watch it again, but I wouldn't run screaming from the idea either. It's the performances that give it its strength and they'll be good no matter how often you watch it.