Viking Night: Sexy Beast
By Bruce Hall
June 5, 2012
It’s not every day you get to see Gandhi hit someone in the face with a bottle. Really, that’s the sort of thing that got me interested in movies in the first place. I thought it was cool that when he was finished saving the universe in Star Wars, Han Solo could pick up a hat and a whip and do the same damn thing to Hitler and his goons. What an awesome guy - his occupation was saving the world, and he had TWO jobs! Or at least, that’s how I thought when I was a kid.
Today, I understand that Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones are not the same guy. And of course we all know that Ben Kingsley isn’t the Father of India. But how great it is that occasionally, a performer can inhabit a character so utterly that you forget you’re looking at an actor. You forget you’re watching a movie. You forget you’ve had your hand submerged in searing hot popcorn and imitation pig fat for five minutes.
It’s this kind of performance that sets Sexy Beast in motion, after a somewhat over-long setup. Kingsley’s terrifying portrayal of mob enforcer Don Logan is present for about a quarter of the film - surprisingly little time, considering it’s Kingsley’s sneering mug on the film’s most recognizable advertising. On first viewing this might leave you tempted to dismiss Sexy Beast as a trifle. Part travel documentary, part heist movie, joined in the middle by a roiling tempest of fury. Only, I’m not sure the film is as disjointed as it appears.
The main character in this film isn’t Don Logan, it’s Gary Dove (Ray Winstone), an acquaintance of Don’s from another life. Gary and Don were once associates in a criminal outfit led by a ruthless mastermind named Teddy Bass (Ian McShane, looking like the devil himself). Over the years, Teddy’s crew has been behind a series of elaborately planned heists across London, and Don was a big part of it. Now, after serving nine years in prison to protect the gang, Don takes it upon himself to walk away from it all. He takes his ball and goes to Spain.
This is where the film opens. Don and his girlfriend Deedee (Amanda Redman), fellow expatriate Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and his main squeeze Jackie (Julianne White) enjoy a shared retirement here, far from England and the shadows of their mutual past. They sunbathe, they go hunting, they spend their days sunning by the pool and their nights sampling Tapas by candlelight. As far as I can tell, nothing about their lives sucks in any way.
This takes up not quite the first 15% of the film and it’s sufficiently languid to make you forget there’s a movie going on. You almost feel like you’re lying there by the pool with them, sipping Sangria and getting lobster-bod when a loose boulder from a nearby hill careens down the mountain and into Gary’s pool. It seems like an omen, and even more so when it comes to Gary’s attention that an old acquaintance has come to Spain to look him up.