Every once in a while, the best thing for it is a good British crime movie. If you read the rest of this review in the voice of a British gangster, you are more than likely going to enjoy it a great deal more. I cou trai da roit ih ow loi ih souns, bu I’d be loo’in ah squiggly red loins aw noi, woon’t I. Plus, it’s bloody stagnating going through the phonetics of it all for me and for you. But it’s just so therapeutic. All the expletives, repetition, and odd ways of speaking. It’s like a brain fart. Usually the term refers to a lapse in memory or thought process, but here, I mean it like a real fart. Pent up tension, momentary concern, a release, and then total relief and relaxation. It’s all out and you can get back to life. In a way, watching Sexy Beast (2001) was like that.
A boulder becomes dislodged and rolls down the hillside right for Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) and misses him by a hair. Sometimes, there are things you can’t control. But Gal has retired to the Spanish seaside with his wife Deedee (Amanda Redman) and his pals Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and his wife Jackie (Julianne White) and it’s all quite lovely. Then, of a sudden, a ruthless psychopathic mobster, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), comes to his house and demands he do a job for another ruthless psychopathic mobster Teddy Bass (Ian McShane). It’s hard for Gal to say no because these are the kinds of guys that will kill you if given the excuse. And Don won’t take no for an answer. Things get uncomfortable, then they get hairy, then they get quite uncomfortable indeed.
Bottom line, the movie is good through and through. Music, camera, acting, story. It’s all terrific. Let’s take those in reverse order.
The story credit is in issue, but the screenplay is by Louis Mellis and David Scinto. IMDB gives uncredited credit to Andrew Michael Jolley who would have been 16/17 when the movie was made. I was unable to find anything beyond that mere assertion online. In any case, the story is a great mixture of the clichéd, one-more-job story and dealing with psychopaths. A psychotic character is entrancing. Bronson (2008) proves that you need more than that to make a movie. You need a straight man to set the tone and tell you how to feel. We get Gal and company and a heist movie as a bonus subplot. And the tone, by the way, is intense. That’s how you’re supposed to feel. It’s mostly comic, but with a layer of life-and-death tension underneath.
The comedy mostly revolves around the ludicrous amount of curses beginning with “F” and “C”. But it’s a mixture. It depends on how they’re performed. Sometimes you know it’s a flippant f-word or a fighting f-word and sometimes they switch in a moment. Guy Ritchie looked at this movie and said, “Yeah, I could do that.” But Ritchie took only the flippancy and added a little bit of vaguely ominous gangsters to keep the conflict alive. Sexy Beast is thoroughly mature. Death and violence are never the sources of comedy.
The performances are thoroughly excellent. Kingsley got almost all of the attention, but I thought it was Winstone who took the show. Kingsley played a crazy person. Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that a psychotic is the easiest thing to play (though perhaps not to play convincingly). I think of it like adopting an accent. Any actor worth their salt can use a consistent accent. It might not be a good one, but it will be consistent. It’s their idea of the accent. The same goes (from appearances) for playing a crazy or otherwise one-tone character. So, given the high expectation for Kingsley, I thought it was a bit off from the start. Like it wasn’t real enough to be scary. I didn’t begrudge his incredible psychological break towards the middle of the movie, but the straight-back, slightly alien mannerisms were gilding the lily.
The direction from Jonathan Glazer is great. In my review of Killing Them Softly (2012), I mentioned how no one, to my memory, ever effectively made me, in the audience, knowingly feel the way a character feels with camera devices. Here’s a perfect example of that job well done. I look back on the movie and consider that a lot of the editing and camera work made me as anxious as Gal and the rest must have felt without going too far and making me notice. You just have to get close enough. Some of the devices, like the rolling boulder, the revolving door, the camera on the car door opening and closing, I thought were fresh and interesting. It was thoughtful and well-done from the start.
Since I said I’d mention it, I will. The music was solid. It was well mixed and chosen. It might have been my least favorite part about the movie, but that says how good the movie was. My slight displeasure at it was that the score sounded a bit cheap. Like it was a ringtone on a third generation cell phone. It was good enough to pass, but only just. It was still effective. It wasn’t a distraction, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t think that you won’t be able to hear anything else. Chances are, though, that you have seen it and are just checking to confirm your own suspicions.
It was great. Well worth a watch on Netflix. Or, if you’re building a collection of the best of British crime films, you ought to buy it. It is certainly in that category.