Even in his debut feature, it was clear as to which direction director Jonathan Glazer would take. Sexy Beast is, at its core, an overwhelmingly brilliant piece of film, one that engages with its leading characters and those around him with such distanced affection that you’d be forgiven for thinking we were already associated with these characters beforehand. Partly due to the amazing work ethic of Ray Winstone and Ben Kinglsey, and partly due to how well the writing formulates that crucial opening, and the meeting between the two further down the line, Sexy Beast is a near-masterpiece that showcases shady characters who are morally grey at the best of times, living their lives in relative seclusion until it, of course, all veers off course.
It’d have been easy to tear down that façade that Gary “Gal” Dove (Winstone) and his wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman) share. A former safecracker and heist man, Dove and his wife live in the beautiful isolation of Spain, mingling with their pals Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White) at restaurants and their Spanish villa, living the life many of us can only dream of. The pacing within these moments is crucial, and it’s such a pleasure to see how well developed it all is. Gal may be a former safecracker and gangster, but he’s a rather endearing character, clearly fighting demons that still linger in the corners of his mind. Those fights with fantasy become very lucid and real upon the arrival of Don Logan (Ben Kinglsey). A performance solely dependent on the writing and Kingsley’s ability to sell it to an audience, it’s amazing how incredibly well it comes together.
Conniving, convincing, articulate but completely insane and genuinely terrifying, Kinglsey’s portrayal of Logan, a man in charge of coaxing Gal out of retirement, is an absolute treat to see unfold. He can’t hold onto his temper for more than a few moments at a time, which makes for some explosive, hilariously dark scenes. The tension he brings to this group of friends is tantalising, a paramount inclusion that not just steals the show but also feels like the most convincing aspect of it. Without the retreated, respectful stance taken by Gal towards a man he clearly fears and reverence, the performance would be meaningless. But Winstone and Kingsley clash in such a phenomenal match-up, their scenes overtake anything the film could wish to achieve once they do indeed depart the company of one another.
The latter half of the film is serviceable, great scenes are still around, and we rely more on Winstone than that of anyone else for these moments. Ian McShane shows up as the man in charge of the heist, but his connection and chemistry with Winstone is a noticeable step down from the experience found within the first hour.
Lucid visuals that bleed into the natural progression of the film, nightmares lurking around every corner; they build up our antagonist extremely well, and it takes no time at all to craft an extraordinarily interesting cast of characters. It’s almost instantaneous, how we acclimatise to the situations Gal is thrown through are intense and engaging. Beautifully paced, an engaging film from start to finish that’s whip-smart, tightly co-ordinated and hilarious in that bleak, unavoidably British manner.