Alexander Larman has reviewed the Region 2 release of Sexy Beast. A fine, offbeat film is released on a mediocre disc, but it’s still a recommended purchase.
Sexy Beast is a fine film. In a sense, there’s very little more that can be said about it, as it positively defies categorisation. If pressed, the ideal description of it would be a mixture of Pinter, Beckett, Guy Ritchie, MTV and Performance, but the film is even more complex and ‘difficult’ than such a description might entail. A first viewing might make the film seem like merely a smarter and more stylish British gangster film than usual, but the sheer bravado with which Glazer, the man who directed the famous Guinness advert with the surfers and horses, puts it all together elevates it into a higher class altogether.
The plot is simple. Gary Dove (Winstone) is living in luxury with his ex-porn star wife DeeDee (Redman), but his idyllic life is interrupted by the insane Don Logan (Kingsley), who has been sent by the Mephistopholean crimelord Teddy Bass (McShane), in order to entice him back for one last job. However, this incorporates dream sequences, some utterly fantastic dialogue, some stunningly cinematic effects, and an opening scene that will have you instantly gripped. The film is a work of art, without a shadow of a doubt, and the daring with which it is executed deserves respect.
The performances are universally excellent. Winstone manages to reveal a side of himself that isn’t usually seen in films, and makes Dove a vulnerable, human character. Redman is also good as his adoring wife. However, the acting honours go to Kingsley and McShane, as two of the scariest villains ever seen in a film. Kingsley, best known for earnest parts in very serious films, clearly relishes the chance to play a truly evil man, and does so with lip-smacking relish. There’s something blackly comic in his performance, a note of camp in his repeated profanities and acts of pointless violence, but Kingsley manages to convey Logan’s utter psychosis brilliantly. McShane is almost as great a revelation; after many years of being wasted on television in poor roles (Lovejoy excepted), he returns to the sort of character that he first played in such films as 1971’s Villain, and does so superbly, without resorting to histrionics or even excessive violence.
It’s a very hard film to categorise or describe, and it probably won’t be to everyone’s taste; it’s certainly closer to the work of Nicolas Roeg or Harold Pinter than most of the new wave of gangster films, and there’s a slightly cold and detached feel to it that means that even the comic highlights don’t seem all that funny. However, Glazer has made a stunning debut film, whether he has by now disowned it or not (he indicated his dissatisfaction with it shortly after its release), and his future projects will hopefully live up to the standards set here.
Film Four have done a nice, although not truly stunning, transfer. Colours are bright and clear, there is no grain or scratching to the print, and contrast levels are pleasing. However, there’s occasionally a slightly ‘film-like’ quality to the transfer, with a slightly soft picture at some points, as well as some of the darker scenes being slightly hard to make out. For a low-budget British film’s DVD release, however, this is one of the best transfers I have seen, especially compared with something like Gangster no.1, which was very grainy and colourless by way of contrast.
A 5.1 mix is provided; as usual with this sort of film, it’s not exactly the most strenuous of workouts, and the rear speakers don’t see an awful lot of action. The most surround effects come from the score (by UNKLE, among others), which counterpoints the on-screen action extremely well, as well as being reminiscent of the famous Leftfield track with which Glazer scored his Guinness advert. There is also an isolated score here, which is quite a nice addition, as well as an audio description for the hard of hearing, which is enough to recommend this disc if you are hard of hearing; otherwise, it’s not really something you’ll want to listen to.
A disappointing bunch here. The ‘deleted scene’ is not in fact a deleted scene at all, but around 15 minutes early in the film with some slightly expanded dialogue, and hardly the sort of thing that really makes any difference to the film. The interviews are interesting enough, with Ben Kingsley’s being the funniest as he compares his acting to a guided missile, of all things, and compares Glazer to a wandering poet, but they’re far too short. The making-of featurette is fluff, the on location footage moderately diverting but only lasting a couple of minutes, and the trailer is a watch once affair. Personally, my favourite extra was the poster gallery, showing a variety of difference concepts behind the film’s marketing, and doing a good job of trying to illustrate the film’s wildly varying styles.
Despite the hype that would market this as a hip Ritchie-esque thriller, this is a far more challenging and daring piece of work than that, and recommended highly on that basis. However, if you tend to avoid European psychological thrillers like the plague, avoid this as well, as it is strongly in the same vein. The disc is technically pretty good, but the extras are something of a let down, with the absence of a commentary particularly missed, although perhaps this really is a film that is best interpreted by the individual viewer…
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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