A plot synopsis of Jonathan Glazer”s debut film, “Sexy Beast,” could be so droll and so absolutely common that it would do the fine film little-to-no justice “Sexy Beast” is about a retired criminal coaxed out of retirement to do one last job.
Glazer sets out to deconstruct the “heist” sub-genre by studying the psychological ramifications of being a criminal, and what it means to be seduced by “the life.” “Sexy Beast” is not simply a look at crime that pays until the obligatory third act crumble, nor is it simply a caper film where the criminal is showcased as a valiant soldier fighting the tyranny of a more-corrupt system. It is an entertaining crime movie with lots of violence, grimy/slick characters, and a conclusion that forces a reconsideration of redemption as a concept.
The film begins with the overtly sweaty Gary “Gal” Dove (Ray Winestone) savoring retirement poolside at his Spanish Villa. Gal is middle-aged and fifty pounds overweight, yet his deep tan and chiseled good looks reveal the youth that surely made him the “Sexy Beast” of any crew he may have previously worked with. Yet his new life comes with a price-tag, as shown both by a deadly boulder annihilating the serenity of Gal”s backyard, and the arrival of long time collaborator/nemesis Don Logan (Ben Kingsley).
Don wants Gal to come out of retirement for the heist of a lifetime, but Gal has promised his beloved ex-porn star wife Dee Dee (Amanda Redman) that he is done with crime. While on paper this may seem like a pointless plot device, a way of forcing tension, the love between Gal and Dee Dee is one of the most touching, kind-hearted relationships on-screen in recent memory. It has none of the Hollywood gloss usually associated with love and instead shows the tenderness and human understanding that holds together most lasting relationships.
The inverse of this love is the apparent torch Don still carries for Jackie (Julianne White), who, along with husband Aitch (the late Cavan Kendall) spend a great deal of time enjoying ex-con status with Gal. Don abhors being seen as weak, so the double rejection of seeing Jackie along with Gal”s frightened refusal sends Don into a violent rage, culminating in his removal from the airplane home after offering to stub out his cigarette in another passenger”s eyeball.
The film”s centerpiece is the violent, often funny interplay between Winestone and Kingsley. Winestone is clearly an actor interested in making a believable, everyday guy trying to make it in an absurd world. Kingsley”s Don is a tormented monster of classical proportions, a Richard III with a sleek goatee and a cue-ball head. He is a baby who bites hard when he doesn”t get his way, to Winestone”s beleaguered father trying to pretend he is in control. Both actors are mesmerizing, and if there is any justice in this world, Kingsley will bookend his Best Actor Oscar for playing one of the world”s kindest men (in 1982″s “Gandhi”) with Best Supporting statue for possibly playing the world”s cruelest.
Other characters, such as Kendall”s nervous, good-hearted Aitch, and Ian McShane”s icy-cool crime boss, add intelligent, colorful support to the two strong leads. As the director, Glazer abandons his commercial and music video origins to make a beautifully conceived, well-paced film. When he does resort to intricate cutting, to show the interplay and web of machismo associated with setting up a large-scale robbery, it is more organically funny and carefully realized than anything turned out by a major director in nearly a decade. While Glazer may be a director to watch in the future, Kingsley and Winestone will keep the audience attentive during “Sexy Beast.”