Published on August 10th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Sexy Beast 
Summary: Hardly a romantic picture of gangster life. This British heist thriller is the anti-Ocean's 11. 'Sexy Beast' is far more interested in the psyche of a tired criminal and the demons that keep beating at his door.
R | 89 min.
Director: Jonathan Glazer | Screenplay: Louis Mellis, David Scinto
Starring: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane
Studio: Recorded Picture Company | Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures (U.S.), FilmFour (U.K.)
In 1990, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather III disappointed many filmgoers but at least one moment from that film does live on: when an exasperated Michael Corleone says, “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.”
That might as well be the tagline of Sexy Beast.
In this quirky, psychological exercise, director Jonathan Glazer created one of the most original gangster pictures to ever hit cinemas–but what do you expect from the guy who crafted this music video back in the day?
Our main character is the likable “Gal” Dove (Ray Winstone), whom we meet while he’s sunbathing in a way-too-small speedo at his home in Spain. “Gal” is retired from a life of thievery, relaxing outside with a few beers until a boulder literally slams into his immaculate swimming pool. This rude interruption, combined with the increasingly violent nightmares he’s having involving a menacing man-size killer rabbit, is an obvious foreshadow to the coming end of his comfortable lifestyle.
Enter Don Logan (Ben Kingsley).
Don, a former cohort of Gal’s, has an invitation for his retired friend to join him on a huge score in their native England. Despite Gal’s numerous attempts to kindly turn dow the offer, Don is like a scab that won’t heal–who also insults your wife nonstop. Tensions between the old chaps finally boil over, resulting in a guilt-ridden Gal agreeing to take part in the heist.
The first thing I have to point out about Sexy Beast is its impeccable acting and casting. Winstone is the perfect hitching post for the audience as he plays Gal like a real person, rather than a tough guy stereotype. Typically when we watch gangster movies like Goodfellas or Scarface, the characters are so extreme that it ends up being cathartic as we watch them stomp through life without a care for anyone but number one–something we often wish we could do in our own lives. Gal is a well-rounded character though, with more depth and neuroses than you’ll typically find in an entire cast of tough guy actors.
Although Winstone carries this picture from start to finish though, it’s 100% the Ben Kingsley show. Sir Ben is at his least Gandhi-like as Don–a character that goes down in film’s all-time list of assholes. His performance in Sexy Beast garnered Kingsley another Oscar nomination, proving once again that the Academy loves bad guys. Don is a relentless character who seems to symbolize evil itself as he berates Gal in his own home–waking him up with a kick to the head, busting a glass over his head, and even pissing on his bathroom floor as if to mark his territory.
Sexy Beast walks a fine line of wit and grit, not unlike other Brit-crime flicks like Snatch and Layer Cake, but the psychological depth of this movie is what separates it from those. Another glaring difference between this film and its contemporaries is that Sexy Beast doesn’t glamorize the life of crime. The criminals are depicted as brutal, soulless individuals, especially Teddy “Mr. Black Magic” Bass (Ian McShane)–the chilling leader of this flock of thugs. One of the film’s most telling passages comes when Gal looks at the boss with a dead-eyed look of defeat and tells him, “I’m not into this anymore, Teddy.” That’s when the romanticism is dead and gone.
This is a difficult film to define with a genre–although the plot leads to a large heist, this sequence doesn’t feel like the movie’s climax. Sexy Beast is the anti-Ocean’s 11–rather than a group of GQ-looking fellas with criminal specialties, this movie’s gang is comprised of middle-aged, overweight, balding smokers.
Truthfully, Glazer’s film feels more like a character study than a crime picture as we immerse ourselves in Gal’s psyche. The nightmare sequences are some of the film’s most memorable–with the aforementioned killer rabbit (run away, run away!) serving as the sum of all Gal’s fears. Once the movie ends, you’ll probably still be asking questions, most notably ‘So who was the Sexy Beast?’ The film ends with an interesting twist on everything we thought we knew about the stalking rabbit, as it continues to haunt Gal.
There aren’t many gangster pictures that are more interested in psychology than body count but Sexy Beast is among the most satisfying British films I’ve seen.