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Sexy Beast (2001)

December 10th, 2007 · 4 Comments

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“Gal” Dove (Ray Winstone) – a London expat retired in Spain – suns himself poolside in his villa. He’s almost squashed when a boulder rolls down a hill and lands in his pool. Otherwise, Gal lives the good life, with his wife (Amanda Redman), best friend Aitch (the late Cavan Kendall) and Aitch’s blonde wife (Julianne White). Aitch comes bearing the worst news any of them could hear: Don Logan wants Gal for a job and is flying in from London to get him.

Don (Ben Kingsley) is a loathsome thug with the impulse control of a Rottweiler, quite possibly the angriest man alive. He’s been tasked with assembling a crew to break into an impenetrable safety deposit vault in London for a fearsome gangster named Teddy Bass (Ian McShane). Gal – a thief who kept quiet while serving nine years in prison – insists he’s retired now. He summons the courage to turn down Don’s offer to his face.

This only motivates Don. He intimidates, threatens and even smacks Gal around. His answer is still no. Don finally gives up, but is kicked off his plane for refusing to put out his cigarette. He returns to Gal’s villa in a rage. Gal next turns up in London to go through with the job. But Teddy grows suspicious when Don fails to return from Spain. The job is a success, but before Gal can return safely home, he has to answer for Don’s disappearance.

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Production history
Louis Mellis & David Scinto had written their first play – Gangster No. 1 – and seen it open to strong reviews in London. The writers adapted it into a screenplay and sent a copy to Jonathan Glazer, hoping he would direct it. Glazer was well known in England for directing a popular ad campaign for Guinness, as well as music videos for Radiohead (“Street Spirit”) and Jamiroquai (“Virtual Insanity”). He was named MTV Director of the Year in 1997 and was looking to direct his first feature film.

Glazer felt the duo’s writing was “extraordinary” and signed on. But the trio became locked in a dispute with the film’s producer over casting; Malcolm McDowell and Paul Bettany ended up in the movie, released in 2000 long after Glazer had dropped out, and even Mellis & Scinto took their names off the film. They had a script they felt was way better called Sexy Beast. They sent it to Glazer, who thought it was “dynamite” and agreed to direct it.

Filming commenced in December 1998 around Almeria, Spain. Glazer wasn’t given time to rehearse, but when Ben Kingsley ran behind schedule working in L.A., the cast ended up with two weeks to prepare for the arrival of Don Logan. Sexy Beast was largely dismissed in the U.K. when it opened in January 2001, but received rave reviews in the U.S. in June. Kingsley’s performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actor.

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I went into the movie expecting business as usual, with Sir Ben Kingsley – joining a long line of British hoodlums played by Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, etc. – putting his foot in the arse of some unfortunate Londoners. Instead of Sir Kingsley, Sexy Beast actually revolves around the equally charismatic Ray Winstone. Along the way, it shatters the mold of all the hard boiled crime pictures that have come before it.

Mellis & Scinto’s script – performed word for word by the cast – has a droll wit that floats through it. Winstone is immensely likable, and his relationship to the other characters feels honest, not based on those in other movies. The writers invented their own language here too; characters talk like none in any other film. It’s also tense, and even surreal, with a recurring nightmare that’s one of the best conveyances of approaching doom that I’ve ever seen.

Sexy Beast is one of those movies that becomes more rewarding the more times you process it. The casting of Winstone, Kingsley and McShane is a nirvana for any gangster movie fan, while Amanda Redman and Julianne White do equally impressive work as the wives. Even a 12-year-old Spanish kid who plays Gal’s loyal helper is perfectly cast in this. Director Jonathan Glazer deserves a lot of credit, delivering one of the most original debut films of the ’00s.

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Neil Young at Jigsaw Lounge writes, “As the man behind the Guinness ‘white horses’ advert, it’s no surprise Glazer delivers on the visuals but, crucially, he’s disciplined enough to put his talents at the service of a good script – slangy, slightly surreal, bracingly economical, brutally bare-bones.”

“Oh my, how I liked this movie. It’s always fun to find a flick that really catches your attention and makes you get excited once again over the medium of celluloid,” writes Patrick Naugle at DVD Verdict.

Edward Copeland at Edward Copeland On Film writes, “The movie turns out to be an odd hybrid of crime drama, dark comedy and terse conversation reminiscent of playwright Harold Pinter. First-time director Jonathan Glazer keeps the film moving, though it does suffer when Kingsley isn’t on the screen. However, Don Logan’s presence reverberates even when he’s not there in person and makes Sexy Beast worth a look.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Dreams and visions · Gangsters and hoodlums · Heist · Hitman

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Adam Ross // Dec 11, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    I love this movie. What’s amazing about Kingsley in this is how he’s able to sell the ferociousness of his character without even speaking — you see him walking in the airport and snearing in the car and just know he’s one bad dude. Same goes for McShane, though he’s naturally pretty evil looking. I really like Aitch, even if I had to turn on the subtitles to figure out half of his dialog.

  • 2 Piper // Dec 13, 2007 at 4:38 pm


    This is a great movie. But I always thought Gal did the job, and Don hung around so long due more to the old girlfriend. It seemed that Don’s anger was more a reason to get off the plane so that he could try to get the girl back. Boy, Kinglsey was an asshole. A good one. His small frame adds to what an asshole he is because he is still able to command attention.

    I love the sleepiness of the opening scene.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Dec 13, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Adam: An example of what you’re talking about would be when Aitch is making up a story about colored water. The first time I heard that, I thought he was talking about flooring tiles. It is a really bizarre movie to understand the first time, but one that rewards your attention.

    Pat: The director did such a fantastic job setting up what an idyllic life Gal lived, before Don Logan came back. I definitely think Kingsley’s character was looking for acceptance, and striking fear into people was the only way he knew to go about it. Thanks for commenting!

  • 4 David // Jul 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Great movie. It has fantasy elements to it that make it unique for it’s genre. I own the US release 1 sheet (the bright colorful one) from when I worked in a movie theatre.

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