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Film Review for July 13th
Sexy Beast 
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Now playing at the Osio Plaza and the Nickleodeon, Sexy Beast is directed by Jonathan Glazer, who made his name directing prize-winning Guinness commercials.  In addition to Ben Kingsley (remember Gandhi?), who plays the mad and manic Don Logan, the film stars Ray Winstone as “Gal” (Gary Dove), his wife, a former porn star, DeeDee (Amanda Redman), and their best friends and couple, Aitch and Jackie.  It also features great short performances by Ian McShane (as Teddy, the big bad guy) and James Fox as Harry, owner of a bank and Teddy’s sometime lover.  It’s about a retired criminal who did some time and is now basking in the sun in a villa with a swimming pool on the coast of Spain.  Gal loves his wife to distraction and, all in all, is a happy man.  Until, of course, Logan visits from London to persuade him to take on another job. 

Enter Kingsley, providing us with maybe half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes of tense stage acting and rapid-fire dialogue.  His manic monologues are soliloquies; in fact, everything about his performance is theatrical in a way that works, even as it stands apart from the rest of the film.  His lines and the spitting anger in them pack so much incipient violence into the action that even if there weren’t any explicit violence—which there is—this would still not be a movie for the faint-hearted. Critics have compared this section of the film to Reservoir Dogs, and I agree.

But Tarantino this director is not.  First, there are the whimsical, dreamy, goofy touches—like the couple floating in air at the beginning, a heart-shaped smoke ring, the heart-shaped mosaics at the bottom of the pool, or Gal’s dreams of Logan as a beast (straight out of Tank Girl) who hunts him down. Second, this movie is quite moving about love.  Gal, who, because of his impassivity, is very good at what he does (rob banks) and who, in his work life, consorts with the meanest of the mean, loves his wife utterly.  As intense as this movie is about violence, it is also quietly passionate about heterosexual companionship (in contrast to its homophobic and cynical take on gay relationships).  Everything Gal does, he does for DeeDee.  This is a far cry from Quentin’s world.

Sexy Beast has a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is that it praises the virtues of peaceful and “soft” retirement over the excitement of gangster life in the fast lane (Gal’s name is “Dove”).  But it does so while provoking extreme discomfort in the audience, first with the relentless sun and heat, then with Logan’s menacing presence, then with a suffocating and claustrophobic underwater sequence, and finally with a sense of impending doom as Teddy, the crime boss, accompanies Gal to the airport.  So it’s a film that leaves its viewers exhausted.  I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it, though I was awestruck by Kingsley’s acting even as I strained to catch all the words. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Freccero 2001