SEXY BEAST (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, Strong Violence and some Sexuality

SexyBeast poster

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Written by: Louis Mellis & David Scinto

Starring: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, Amanda Redman, James Fox & Cavan Kendall

Though he only has three films under his belt so far, Jonathan Glazer has been compared to Stanley Kubrick by a number of film critics. Now having seen two of those three movies, I can definitely see that description being somewhat accurate. Glazer first made waves with this British crime flick that polarized audiences upon its release and rightfully got Ben Kingsley an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Kingsley’s performance is undoubtedly the best part of this film, but the rest of the performances and the so-so screenplay make for a fun hodge-podge of a stalker flick and a typical heist thriller. As a whole, SEXY BEAST is an enjoyable flick, but not without a good share of problems.

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Gal is a retired safecracker. After spending nine years in prison and pulling off many successful jobs, he has settled down with an ex-porn star and retired to a gorgeous Spanish villa. Gal’s nasty life of crime catches up with him in the form of Don Logan. Don has come to Spain in order to recruit Gal on for one last job. It only seems natural that Gal is hesitant to return to the criminal underworld, even if it’s just for one final robbery, but Don isn’t going to take “no” for an answer. Verbal sparring soon turns into violent confrontations and things quickly spiral out of control.

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Ben Kingsley has said that he based his performance of Don on his grandmother. Whatever his inspiration may have been, it works wonders as he completely steals the show. Don Logan is a memorable sociopathic villain for the ages. If the rest of the film had been up to the same level as this psychopathic baddie, SEXY BEAST would be a masterpiece in my eyes. However, the movie slightly suffers during every scene in which Kingsley is absent. I like Ray Winstone, but Gal seems to be a fairly run-of-the-mill reluctant ex-con. We’ve seen this character in a million other movies, though Winstone does his best to make him likable. Ian McShane is enjoyable as the intimidating mastermind behind the heist, but doesn’t receive enough screen time to really cement his presence in this film. The rest of the side characters are forgettable and don’t add much to the story. This film is all about Ben Kingsley’s Don and his performance warrants a viewing alone.

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The script of SEXY BEAST wanders from conversation to conversation. While a film full of talking heads can be riveting given the right story (e.g. A MOST WANTED MAN), SEXY BEAST happens to be a heist thriller in which the thrills make up little over a third of the running time. As the movie goes along and Kingsley gets more unhinged with each passing second, I found myself getting more invested in watching his lunatic gangster as opposed to actually being interested in the plot at hand. The final third is satisfying, especially in later moments involving Ian McShane becoming nearly as unhinged as Kingsley’s Don. However, this still feels like a standard heist movie that happens to feature a vicious psychopath in it. The movie also ventures too far into pretentious areas with a man-sized rabbit who makes a couple of appearances in dreams. Though this movie was made slightly before DONNIE DARKO, all I could think of was how much better that film pulled that off as opposed to SEXY BEAST throwing in this monster for a few minutes.

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SEXY BEAST is worth watching thanks to Ben Kingsley’s performance. Without Kingsley in the role, this would come off as a merely okay heist thriller. The film is entertaining throughout, but also seems to be a little too in love with itself during certain moments (that damned rabbit). It’s an entertaining run-of-the-mill crime flick that just happens to have a lunatic villain at the center of it. I recommend SEXY BEAST on those merits, but this was clearly an early effort for Glazer. The man has definitely improved over time (2014’s UNDER THE SKIN may just be his defining masterpiece).

Grade: B

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