Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast (2000) movie poster

(2000) dir. Jonathan Glazer
viewed: 04/20/02

I don’t know what I could say about Sexy Beast that wouldn’t sound like a kicker off the back of the DVD box.

It’s slick British noir comedy/drama, that compares favorably with the Guy Ritchie films, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Sexy Beast, though, is not nearly as over-stylized as Ritchie’s films (just plain stylish) and features far more substance, pound for pound. Whereas Ritchie’s leads are young hip urban hoods, director Jonathan Glazer’s protagonist is a middle-aged “retired” criminal ex-pat, who has left London’s mean streets for a villa in Spain. None of the gangsters portrayed in Sexy Beast are younger than forty. It’s a different generation altogether, though some of the nasty bigwigs of the organization have similar counterparts in the aforementioned films.

Whether it is the history and backstories to these characters that give them weight, in comparison, or just simply that the characters are less cartoony caricatures than Ritchie’s, Sexy Beast carries a heftier impact and is ultimately a far more interesting film on the whole, while still as poppy and fun as Rithie’s films.

There is an interesting contrast between characters and their environment. The four ex-pat Brits who have made their home in Spain’s isolated desert region have soaked up the sun and the pace of the lifestyle, but their bright-red sunburned tans show that they are not 100% acclimated to their new climate. Their thick working-class Southern English accents are also incredibly incongruous with the smouldering desert scenery. Though at first you don’t know exactly where they are supposed to be, you know that they are clearly not natives.

When the intimidating Don (Ben Kingsley) arrives, he is a fish even further out of water, paler in the sun and not at all at home in the blistering heat.

The contrast between character and location is strong as well when Gal (Ray Winstone) returns to London with his bleached hair and suntan amidst the rainy chill and cold of London. What all this adds up to, I am not quite sure. Certainly, characters are defined by their relationship to their setting, and maybe there is some commentary on Englishness or the growing lack thereof.

Another strong theme that plays throughout is one of power and masculinity. Don, a small, but intimidating man, weilds power via a dangerous machismo. Gal, on the other hand, though a big and tough-looking character, is pacifistic and non-confrontational. His effeminate name, his pacifism, and his semi-homoerotic relationship with Enrique, his Spanish houseboy, clearly paint him in opposition to Don. The criminal world in London, from which Don has come, seems to be an all-boys club, a tough, brutal group. Again, I hesitate to press analysis further, after only one viewing, but these are certain strings that run throughout the film and may well lie at the heart of its meaning.

I guess I have found things to say that you probably wouldn’t find on the back of the box.

Whatever the case, the acting is great, as is the script, as is the cinematography. It’s a tight package at a running time below 90 minutes. A lean, fun flick.

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