Movie Review: Sexy Beast

By Oliver James Pike

Lockdown has drawn me back to movies I haven't watched in years and one has particularly stood out. Sexy Beast (2000) directed by Jonathan Glazer, starring Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley, is a fantastic film. The opening treats viewers to a sunburnt Ray Winstone in tight bright yellow speedos lounging by his pool to Peaches by the stranglers. Never has a scene summed up the pure bliss of relaxing by a pool on a holiday. As he goes for a drink a boulder crashes into his pool almost killing him in the process. This almost supernatural intervention is a clear allegory for the chaos about to reenter this retired bank robber's life.

This intervention comes in the form of Don Logan an unhinged career criminal sent to get Gal (Ray Winstone) to do a bank job. The gritty London accents and deadpan deliveries and phycological fever dreams involving an uzi wielding rabbit beast begin to transform this idyllic Spanish setting into a nightmare. As the confrontation between the characters takes place I am always in awe of how uncomfortable the whole thing becomes but equally how naturally the dialogue flows in what must be down to either a masterful script or next level improvisational skills. When not overbearingly sinister the script is sporadically funny as the ex-pat geezer banter is given moments in the limelight but equally the schizophrenic rants from Kingsley and the remote intensity of the setting make for a palpable sense of dread throughout these key scenes.

The second half of the movie involves an underwater heist set in a gritty cold London setting far removed from the sanctuary of ray Winston's villa. The film uses violence rarely but when it does it is in a manner so visceral and twisted that the audience is made well aware of what these characters can do to each other and what the real stakes are. As the movie progresses lies are uncovered, motives change and our once relaxed ex robber is now caught up in a potentially explosive situation that threatens everything he has built. To be short the film is incredibly engaging in a way only a few movies have made me feel and if like me you love British heist films then this is a must-watch. Few heist films are so stylised and unique in presentation. The style elevates what would otherwise be a by the numbers crime film into one of my top 10 movies.

I also love the movie for its overindulgence. Recently films have stripped back the bells and whistles along with any bold or faux amateur stylistic choices that show a director comfortable with embracing their adolescent tendencies for the purpose of pure entertainment. Tarantino movies sum this rare approach perfectly. This film embraces a similar tradition. The accents are hyperbolic the whole movie is premised by a retro porn title card and an overextended monologue. The film is littered with dodgy CGI, drawn-out montages, supernatural fever dreams, extreme violence and crass humour.

I wish more movies focussed on treading new ground, allowed for brave creative choices and were aimed more at ellciiting an emotional response from the audience rather than a superficial political one in the form of being reminded that x minority exists or that "insert progressive movement" here is important. Cinema never used to be about that and when it was you knew what you were getting into. Political films advertised themselves as political films now those trying to simply watch a movie have the whole of 2020 with all its fire and fury shoved relentlessly in their face. Sexy beast is ideal escapism. It's a textbook heist movie with a ferociously intense first act. It does what it says on the tin and has a bit of flair about it while doing so. I wish we could see films embrace the different and the interesting and be willing to make bad creative choices (there are moments in sexy beast that are artistically terrible). Watching films like these is a treat as you never know where they will take you. In contrast, mainstream modern cinema is simply formulaic and dull. Thank god for DVD players!