CINEMA SIGNALS

. "Sexy Beast"

Gary "Gal" Dove, (Ray Winstone) an overweight Brit, lies in the piercing sun, on his chaise lounge, on the deck of his pool, in a small town in Spain. Nothing much is happening. His thoughts are happening. His boring but happy retirement is happening. Soon his wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman) returns home and greets her overweight husband. Smooch, smooch. Also boring.

That evening, their two British friends Aitch and Jackie (Cavan Kendall and Julianne White) visit for barbeque dinner and the chatter is trivial, uninspiring, boring. And then Don "Malky" Logan (Ben Kingsley) calls and says he's coming for a visit.

The four people are frozen by fear and can hardly speak. There's only one reason Don would be coming and that's to recruit Gal for a job, one in which the outcome is never certain. The trouble is, Gal is happily retired and doesn't want his world turned around, thank you very much. All that boredom... that's what he wants most of all in the world after his former career. But, now, the threat of a return to criminal activity is enough to chill the foursome, who apparently share a common past with Don. The boredom is over. The drama has begun and it doesn't much let up.

Don arrives and we soon see the hold he has on his "friends". Not only won't he accept Gal's declarations that he's retired and therefore unavailable for any jobs, but he threatens, coerces, and in his demented way manifestly controls the lot of them. There's something frightening about the grip he has. Perhaps it's his willingness to destroy anyone who doesn't comply with his wishes.

Most assuredly, this is a story of domination and revenge, and it's expressed in a parallel fashion in the details behind how the job came up in the first place, how boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) is doing some payback to Harry (James Fox), a somewhat depraved Owner/President of a bank everyone thinks is impregnable. But that's because no one has tried drilling into the safe from below, underwater. Hence the need for Gal -- it's his area of expertise.

Amidst all this intimidation and malice there is a love story going on. The depth of felling between Gal and Deedee is acutely expressed more than once and is an accomplished counterpoint to the lurid degradation in which others of the clan participate. It's a gang culture in which there are levels of authority that are implicitly observed and respected and love is not something that easily thrives, let alone survives. But, love proves strong enough to deal with this Don thing, and it becomes the animating spirit behind the drama as it pours light into the shadows of this crime noir escapade.

With a cast that makes barely what the catering budget might be on a large film, this is a low budget gem of a movie driven by relationships among this underworld culture. The actors are first rate in every dimension. Winstone is totally sympathetic to the audience as he portrays what is, in essence, a gentle, loving ex-criminal who just wants to put it all behind him.

Ben Kingsley is in full control as the menacing underboss displaying some interesting bits of psychosis. Each actor in this pro ensemble realizes the demands and possibilities of their roles, from abject fear to moments of antic comedy. By way of comparison, think of something like "The Long Good Friday."

Kudos for the way writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto balance believability with theatrics, providing a caper film with such surprising depth and versatility. Director Jonathan Glazer whose immediate background is commercials (the Guinness beer adverts) did well with his staging of scenes to convey the relationships, the fear and the inevitability of the violence. A fine job, too, by cinematographer Ivan Bird.

A nice, tight, 91 minutes of adult, sometimes lurid suspense in an off-beat criminal caper film. Respect this film; it respects you. A Fox Searchlight release.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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