This is a kind of an after thought to last week’s post about Guy Ritchie’s English gangster films. After having all the conversations that motivated that post and writing that post and then all the conversations I had from that post, I decided I had to watch “Sexy Beast”. I had never seen it before, but I’d heard about it. I knew that Ben Kingsley was in it and he played an unpleasant character. That was the sum total of my knowledge.
Before watching it, it’s a film that makes sense to be made in a post Guy Ritchie world. It was made after “Lock, Stock…” and around the same time as “Snatch”. It’s directed by Jonathan Glazer, a music video and advertisement director with considerably better credits than Ritchie in those fields, including the incredible video for “Virtual Insanity” by Jamirioquai as well as others by Blur and Radiohead and ads for a host of major global brands. It seems like an obvious choice for a film trying to replicate the success that Guy Ritchie was having. It shares a number of traits with the Guy Ritchie films. It’s a British gangster story. It’s visually slick. The soundtrack features some well known tunes, including one of my least favourite songs of all time, “Peaches” by The Stranglers. And there are some massive characters, something I’ll return to in a moment.
It changes things up in terms of setting and the structure of the story. There’s less of the messing around of a Guy Ritchie caper and obviously it’s mostly based in Spain which leads to a different visual experience. I think tonally it’s different too. In the Guy Ritchie films, everything is supposed to be cool whereas “Sexy Beast” is often a little grotesque. There’s more nuance to the context. Where Guy Ritchie would pause a film and have a voice over explain why a character is scary, “Sexy Beast” builds anticipation for the appearance of Ben Kingsley so the viewer knows he’s bad news. The behaviour of the characters changes. They’re worried. We’re grown ups, we get what’s going on.
And Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan is terrible news for Gal and the crew living in Spain. He’s incredible. In the Wikipedia article for the film, he’s described as “the feared sociopath Don Logan” and that’s putting it lightly. He’s a wonderful creation and one of the most unhinged characters I’ve seen in a while. He has three scenes that each are worth watching the film for alone. There’s his shaving scene, the scene where Gal says he might have come to Spain for more than one reason and his incident in the airport. I’ve included the clips, but if you haven’t seen the film I would suggest you don’t watch them like that. Go and watch the film and see those scenes in the their natural habitat.
The strength of Ben Kingsley shows up the rest of the film to a certain extent. The scenes he’s not in pale in comparison to the scenes he’s in. The tension during his visit to Spain is sky high and once that comes to an end, so to speak, the film peters out a bit despite the fact that the storyline should hold that tension.
“Sexy Beast” didn’t have the commercial success of a Guy Ritchie piece but I think it has a lot more street cred. There are some gimmicky visual moments of cameras following people but it’s not as indulgent. There are some twists and turns and little things that reappear later but it’s not as goofy. More than anything else it was a vehicle for Ben Kingsley to be an absolute wizard and that’s definitely worth watching.