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"SEXY BEAST"
(2001) (Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A retired criminal tries to refuse the offer made to him by a menacing gangster who wants him for one last heist.
PLOT:
Gary "Gal" Dove (RAY WINSTONE) is a former British criminal who's now retired and living on Spain's Costa del Sol with his wife, Deedee (AMANDA REDMAN), a former porn actress. Content to spend his days sunbathing by the pool as his Spanish houseboy, Enrique (ALVARO MONJE), works around the home, Gal has few cares in the world and enjoys spending time with Deedee and their friends Aitch (CAVAN KENDALL) and Jackie (JULIANNE WHITE).

That tranquility is broken when the latter inform Gal that notorious London gangster Don Logan (BEN KINGSLEY) is arriving the next day to recruit Gal for another job. It seems that Don's associate, Teddy Bass (IAN McSHANE), has masterminded an elaborate bank heist and wants Gal on it. The ex-con, however, wants no part of any further wrongdoings, a point of contention that Don doesn't appreciate discovering upon his arrival.

As both men stubbornly hold to their convictions, it's only a matter of time before things reach a boiling point, leaving Gal in a tough and dicey spot as he tries to cover and save his own hide while maintaining his low-key lifestyle.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
For better or worse, the great migration of commercial and music video directors over to mainstream films doesn't seem likely to end anytime soon as such graduates are replaced by freshmen who then get in line to follow them and so on. On the positive side, such filmmakers bring a certain aggressiveness to the medium, along with a clear cinematic flair and various visual tricks.

On the negative side, they bring a certain aggressiveness to the medium, along with a clear cinematic flair and various visual tricks. Yes, both the good and bad baggage follows these novice filmmakers although some of them mange to temper some of the frenetic visual tricks and approach they've learned or developed - at least to some degree - and actually end up making decent if not good movies. The most notable is Guy Ritchie ("Snatch") while the most successful has been McG ("Charlie's Angels").

Jonathan Glazer is the latest such graduate/migrant/lucky stiff to get the chance to strut his stuff on the big screen with his film, "Sexy Beast." For those who really know their ads and music videos, he's best known for his various Nike and Guinness TV commercials and music video work for Radiohead and Massive Attack. Trying his hand at the film noir genre, Glazer has crafted one of the more visually arresting pictures of the year where such visual tactics have a bit more symbolic depth to them than what's delivered by many of his flashy contemporaries.

Nevertheless, that doesn't prevent the director from including some odd and/or distracting shots and scenes (such as the protagonist and his wife literally floating above the skyline or the various ones that include a devil-like creature) that don't fit in that well with the rest of the picture or genre in which it falls. Nor does that mean the film completely avoids the style over substance dilemma that bedevils most such directors who've never had to deal with a storyline that runs more than a few minutes in total length.

That's not to say, however, that the screenplay by Louis Mellis and David Scinto (who are making their feature film debut) is all fluff. Quite the contrary, the two writers have crafted an intriguing tale of gritty personal conflict that, coupled with the visuals, compelling characters and fun soundtrack choices, immediately engages and lures in the viewer.

The scribes are obviously trying to emulate the David Mamet approach of writing where the dialogue - even when peppered with profanity - has a poetic feel to it, no doubt helped by the often rapid fire and staccato delivery. While they don't quite reach the level or quality of Mamet's writing, at least what they've crafted is different and better than much of the tripe heard in most contemporary, mainstream films.

My main problem with the script is that it leaves things unanswered. Although one usually appreciates when some things are left to the imagination and not every film obviously has to explain ever last detail of its plot, I found the few holes that are present to be a bit distracting. While I didn't necessarily mind that we don't ever learn too many details about the protagonist's criminal past - a point that makes him that much more interesting - I was distracted by the lingering question of why the bank robbery team needed him so badly.

When we do eventually see him on the job, he doesn't appear to bring any unique skill that someone else couldn't have provided in his place. Had he possessed such a much-needed technique or been selected as a patsy to take the fall, that would have been one thing. Yet, that's not the case here and that lack of explanation somewhat deflates the progressively building, conflict-based tension between him and the gangster who's sent to convince and/or coerce him into participating.

As those two characters, Ray Winstone ("Agnes Brown," "Nil By Mouth") and Ben Kingsley ("Rules of Engagement," "What Planet Are You From?") deliver terrific and riveting, if polar opposite style performances. Baked a golden brown and a bit pudgy from lounging by the pool all day, Winstone's character is the epitome of a character who cautiously turns down an offer to return to his old ways. The actor perfectly plays the part and turns what could and should have been a despicable character into one the viewer actually cares for.

Although Kingsley has embodied villainous characters in the past, most people still associate him with playing Gandhi or Ishtzak Stern in Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Thus, the sight of him in the role of an ominous, tattooed and foul-mouthed gangster may be quite surprising or shocking to some. While not quite as convincingly menacing as Joe Pesci has demonstrated in some of his roles playing a man of smaller stature (making one wonder why Gal simply doesn't physically throttle Don), Kingsley delivers a commanding, show stopping performance.

The rest of the film's roles, including those played by Amanda Redman (the TV series "Dangerfield") as Gal's wife, Julianne White (the TV soap "Brookside") and the late Cavan Kendall ("The Clandestine Marriage") as their friends, and Ian McShane (the UK TV show "Lovejoy") as the villainous mastermind, are decent but not terribly defined in what's really just a two actor vehicle.

In the end, some viewers may be disappointed that there wasn't more story and plot to complement those performances and the film's unique visual flair. While the style over substance ratio isn't as severe as in other efforts of commercial and music video directors turned feature film moviemakers, I kept wanting something else out of the film. Although the common saying is to leave viewers wanting more, in this case that prevents the film from being as good as it could have been. Even so, this is certainly a decent entry in the noir genre and a good calling card for Glazer. "Sexy Beast" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 25, 2001 / Posted June 22, 2001


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