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Sexy Beast | Review

Beauty in the Beast

Kingsley at the top of his game.

This film won’t have you marvel about the glamorous lifestyle of the criminal world, instead you’ll get an idea of how people pay for other people’s fu*k-ups. First time director Jonathan Glazer brings to us a film about a retired criminal who can never leave “the business” -who always has to watch behind his back, both literally and figuratively. This film has got some really cool things going for it, namely the performance of Ben Kingsley, but also a little bit of an atmospherically-easy-going style of a well photographed film with a get-right-to-the-point un-fancy narrative.

Sexy Beast has a distinct feel to it within the very first frames-a blurring camera focusing on the sun above with the following shots presenting the central character in his natural habitat -he his literally baking out in the sun a la baby oil with the gut sticking out. We get the a lot of information from the opening sequence-the swimming pool and his horizontal posture are clear indicators that tell the viewer about this guy’s lifestyle, his attitude towards life and his past- we get the sense that this guy did get his money in the form of a nine-to five pay slip. The camera shots in this sequence are well-composed with a crisp variation in shot composition. I love the disruption of this flow when the most banal moment transpires-when a giant boulder that becomes a swimming pool ornament narrowly misses our main guy. This incident combined with the dream sequences (which involve him as the prey of a pissed off-gun-toting rabbit) foreshadows this notion that you’ve got to always keep your head or look behind you-because you never know who what will happen next. Ray Winstone (Nil by Mouth) plays our likeable fat bastard/former criminal kicking it back among close friends under the dancing sun and stars of a Spain backdrop-but all this comfort eventually changes once we are introduced to the idea of “someone is coming to town” and it obviously ain’t someone resembling Santa.

I like how we are introduced to the next significant character in the film- the anticipation, the build up of tension and fear that this visitor brings with him; not only as a simple idea but also in his actual presence. Enter: the visitor and you’ll shake off pretty quickly the Gandhi image. Ben Kingsley (Schindler’s List) as Don Logan is the pissed off pit-bull (who throws hissy fits every time he hears anything that is contrary to his thinking)- in a performance which will definitely satisfy every film critic. I like the attention that Glazer gives to Kingsley-the framing of the shots and the character’s spiked tongue is used to create the sense of terror that accompanies the character. This disruption leads to an eventual break in the narrative, which splits the film into a second half where the viewer we as the viewer are introduced to the criminal world and a past that we sense is being revisited. There is perhaps less in detail, and the interest level does go down- but the protagonist’s emotional state becomes the focal point and the most interesting of developments- he must sweat it out again and this time the viewer is invited to worry about the unfolding of events with the protagonist.

Sexy Beast has a fairly easy linear flow to it- the film gets to the point, and does not bother with useless backlog of character history, and a bank-robbery scene which is not lacking in imagination not only in narrative but also in montage editing and cinematographic terms. I question some of events in the story such as the presence of the kid after “the incident” or the fact that a criminal lost his ability to fire a gun seems a little far fetched. There are a lot of nice shots and some involve a couple of camera tricks- you get the sense that they weren’t afraid of playing with the camera (attaching it to a car door isn’t that impressive but it shows a willingness to interject some neat little distractions). This film is a pleasure to watch, after taking in the first five minutes of dialogue which sounded like a lot of gibberish (get used to the dialogued-heavy accents) it transforms itself into an easy watch with a meager film running time. Although it is not a film without faults, it is a pretty decent first film for a newcomer.



Rating 3 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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