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Sexy Beast (2000)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Sexy Beast (2000)
Super 35mm, colour, 88 mins
DirectorJonathan Glazer
Production CompanySexy RPC Limited
ProducerJeremy Thomas
Written byLouis Mellis, David Scinto
Director of PhotographyIvan Bird
Original Music Roque BaƱos

Cast: Ray Winstone (Gary 'Gal' Dove); Ben Kingsley (Don Logan); Ian McShane (Teddy Bass); Amanda Redman (DeeDee); Cavan Kendall (Aitch); Julianne White (Jackie); James Fox (Harry)

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Gary 'Gal' Dove is an East End villain now retired with his wife and best mate in a sumptuous villa in southern Spain. His peace is shattered by the arrival of the monstrous Don Logan, intent on getting Gal back to London for another job.

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A late entry to the 1990s cycle of British gangster films, Sexy Beast (d. Jonathan Glazer, 2000) aims to be the last word on the subject. Former adman Glazer litters the film with references to the genre's illustrious heritage: there's a Spanish setting (The Hit, d. Stephen Frears, 1984), a cameo from James Fox (the gangster in Performance, d. Donald Cammell/Nicolas Roeg, 1970), a best friend called 'Aitch' (crim-kingpin Harold's nickname in The Long Good Friday, d. John Mackenzie, 1979) and Britain's favourite renta-hardman Ray Winstone as retired gangster Gal Dove. But as his name suggests, Gal (pronounced 'girl' in Cockneyesque) is a dovish sort, happy with his hacienda, his ex-porn star wife and his calamari. When he says, "I'm Lee Marvin", he means 'starvin'.

If this weren't clue enough to Glazer's iconoclastic intentions, in walks Gandhi as a psychopath. Ben Kingsley, Oscar-nominated as the apostle of non-violence, is genuinely terrifying as Don Logan, Gal's shotgun-blast from the past. Logan is a little man with a big persecution complex, a coiled spring of barely repressed violence.

The question is not if he is going to explode but when, and Glazer builds the tension to breaking point with exchanges that move from the mundane to the menacing with alarming unpredictability. Power and violence are expressed in language: when Don is set to explode, he spews forth words like a hail of bullets: "Look at your suntan. Like leather. Like a leather man. Your skin..You look like a crocodile. Fat crocodile. Fat bastard."

Although Don is dispatched early in the proceedings, Glazer drags out his fate with a Pulp Fiction-style chronological shuffle. Slick kingpin Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) can't replace Logan's violent energy and the heist itself is almost academic, its execution as smooth as Glazer's presentation, all stop-motion, freeze-frames and pounding dub-bass score (Unkle reprising Leftfield's score for Glazer's famous Guinness 'surfer' commercial).

It's all very sexy in Glazer's hands, but the film's real power, like the gangster figure himself, lies not in sex appeal but the beast underneath. That's why Sexy Beast closes with Don, beneath the pool and beyond the grave, still refusing to extinguish his fag.

Joe Sieder

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Video Clips
1. Gal's nightmare (3:03)
2. Don's departure (4:02)
3. Phoning from Heathrow (2:28)
4. Underwater heist (2:24)
Production stills
Fox, James (1939-)
Glazer, Jonathan (1965-)
Kingsley, Sir Ben (1942-)
Thomas, Jeremy (1949-)
Winstone, Ray (1957-)
Channel 4 Films/Film on Four/FilmFour