Sexy Beast (United Kingdom, 2000)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The oddly-titled Sexy Beast (oddly titled because neither of the main characters is sexy, although both are certainly beasts) focuses on a husband's determination to honor a promise he made to his wife. The movie, the debut effort from British director Jonathan Glazer, is essentially a caper flick, although the best parts take place before the crime gets underway. The first two-thirds of this film represents a test of wills between retired criminal Gary (Ray Winstone, playing a softer role than in either Nil By Mouth or The War Zone) and gangster Don (Ben Kingsley), who wants Gary to come back to work with him on one more job. Don is abusive and unrelenting; Gary is more laid back (at times almost submissive).

Both Kingsley and Winstone give forceful performances, and their often vicious, occasionally volcanic give-and-take is a delight to behold. Winstone, whose tanned, plump body is the picture of a man who has gone soft in the lap of luxury, gives yet another in a long line of effective portrayals. As good as he is, however, he is constantly eclipsed by Kingsley, who tears into this role with a gusto we rarely see from the normally stately actor. Kingsley is so magnetic that the movie suffers noticeably when he's not on screen (unfortunately, there's a span of about 20 minutes when this is true). Satellite characters, such as Gary's wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman), and crime boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), enrich the plot by raising the stakes. Gary can cope with Don's threats and bullying when they are directed at him, but not when his wife is their target. The tension is effectively leavened with comedy to keep the tone from becoming too harrowing.

Although the chief pleasure of watching Sexy Beast lies in absorbing the performances of Winstone and (especially) Kingsley, Glazer displays a lively visual style that offers moments of surprise and gratification. Sexy Beast runs the gamut from relentless to playful. There's a priceless scene early in the proceedings featuring a boulder and a swimming pool that has to be seen to be believed. It will surely go down as one of the most memorable sequences offered by any movie to reach theaters in 2001.

With a style that recalls recent films like The Limey and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Sexy Beast offers a suspenseful 90 minutes. (The British sure seem to like these movies - no wonder Tarantino is revered there.) Before reaching U.S. theaters, this movie was a mainstay on the festival circuit, where it made stops at two high-profile, prestigious venues: the Toronto International Film Festival (2000 edition) and the Sundance Film Festival (2001 edition). Judging by the enthusiastic reception Glazer's movie received in both places, it is likely to do well during its limited U.S. release.

Sexy Beast (United Kingdom, 2000)

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, Amanda Redman, Cavan Kendall, Julianne White
Screenplay: Louis Mellis, David Scinto
Cinematography: Ivan Bird
Music: Roque Banos
U.S. Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 2001-06-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1