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'Sexy Beast'

Inside job: 'Sexy Beast' breaks into the dark criminal mind

Friday, July 13, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

I suspect the title of the British movie "Sexy Beast," now at the Squirrel Hill and Denis theaters, refers not to a person so much as an impulse, a devilish desire that lurks within us trying to burst out, gratifying perhaps, but ultimately destructive.

    'Sexy Beast'

RATING: R, for pervasive language, strong violence and some sexuality.

STARRING: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane.

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Glazer.

CRITIC'S CALL: 3 stars.


The film is a tale of men linked by crimes past and present in a gangland camaraderie that is dangerous not just from the threat of capture, death and betrayal but also from the psychosexual nature of their association.

That description makes the movie sound dark and foreboding. But first-time director Jonathan Glazer, who made his mark in commercials and music videos, drenches the movie in bright light and perverse humor, providing ironic contrast that coats the movie like a layer of sunscreen and leaves us feeling refreshed instead of burnt.

The movie opens with an overhead shot of Gary "Gal" Dove (Ray Winstone), a plump morsel warming under the buffet lamp as he lies in the sun next to the pool of his home on Spain's Costa Del Sol, watching his houseboy, Enrique (Alvaro Monje), sweeping the floor.

Gal's repose is shattered by the sudden descent of ludicrous but deadly caprice, serving as an omen threatening the good life into which he has settled with his beloved wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman) and friends Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White).

Their accents and demeanor mark them as Londoners of a type that you would not expect to find living in a Spanish villa. Gal's gains are of the ill-gotten type but, he insists, he is retired.

Try telling that to Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), a bald, lean terror whose very name strikes fear into the hearts of our carefree foursome. He arrives in Spain to recruit Gal for one more job -- cracking a supposedly invulnerable bank vault.

Logan doesn't ask you to do something, he tells you. Saying no is not an option. He badgers you. He insults you. He screams at you. He calls you every filthy name in the book. He jackhammers you into submission. This is the sexy beast, the naked id, enraged and outrageous. This is Ben Kingsley unchained from his stereotype as pretentious conscience of the world, as mesmerizingly vicious as his Gandhi was noble.

He lays bare the sexual connotations that have only been hinted at thus far, not just in the man-woman relations but also in Gal's expanse of skin poolside and whatever we might read into his glances at Enrique.

Gal's very nickname raises the question. It is answered in Logan's innuendo -- he gets out of a scrape with authorities by charging someone with sexual harrassment -- and in the way the crooks address each other by female terms that are intended to be both denigrating and profane. Is it coincidence that the bank job involves drilling into a vault in a manner that will flood it with water? It's not the only symbolic womb in the movie, as it turns out.

This is the life Gal wants to be retired from, not just the criminal aspect but also the twisted sexual psychology and the London he describes as a sewer. He has found true love with his wife in the land of the sun.

In addition to the principals, Ian McShane is quietly menacing as the mastermind of the heist and James Fox offers an above-the-fray quality as the bank manager.

Louis Mellis and David Scinto wrote the screenplay, although it may not be their fault that the film seems to go into shorthand on occasion, leaving some points unclear. The sound was also very muddy at the preview screening, making it difficult to understand the harsh British accents.

As for the rest, though, it's clear what "Sexy Beast" is getting at.

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