Flash is Glazer's narcotic ... flash and foreshadowing that bears down like a freight train on a bunny rabbit. We know, at Sexy Beast's beginning, that paradise is drawing to a close for reformed criminal Gary "Gal" Dove (Ray Winstone) when an enormous boulder comes barreling down a hill like the prophetic biblical frogs of Magnolia and -- narrowly missing his head -- crashes into his swimming pool.
That boulder soon hurls into Gal's life, though this time it makes human impact, in the form of a former gangland boss and psychopath Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), who comes a-calling, like Mephistopheles, for Gal's soul.
Besides flash, the centerpiece of Sexy Beast is the dynamic, iconoclastic performance of Kingsley as the anti-Ghandi, the ultimate equal opportunity psychopath who bullies friends and strangers alike. As raging and impotent as Yosemite Sam, Don is a tightly wound monster who draws Gal out of a blissful criminal retirement on the Spanish coast with a demand to rob a seemingly impenetrable London bank. Gal goes kicking and screaming back into the bad life -- his own force of personality little match for the cyclonic Don who doesn't appear to take "no" for an answer.
Like all of Sexy Beast's mobsters, Don's face is deceptively relaxed and tanned, but his eyes are the portholes into the Good Ship Psychopath. A raging id, Don disrupts Gal and fellow expat Aitch's (Cavan Kendall) cozy Spanish gangsta hideaway. He reminds Gal of the inescapability of his guttersnipe origins even as he makes a frightening play for Aitch's wife Jackie (Julianne White).
It's not exactly a case of the fox set loose in the bunny hutch, however. Gal and his pals, including his leathery wife and former porn-star Deedee (Amanda Redman), have the equally hardened miens of those acquainted with the scumbag side of life. White is especially memorable as a Charlotte Rampling-esque block of ice with searing blue eyes courtesy of Bausch & Lomb and the seen-it-all
100-yard stare of a retired pin-up.
Glazer apparently means to make some comparison between Gal's true love for his own tainted lady and the warped, delusional lust Don harbors for Jackie, but ultimately, who the hell cares? Subplot tends not to register persuasively when the two halves of the drama -- first in Spain, and then in the dreary "toilet" of England -- fit as awkwardly as a fat man on a bicycle.
To his credit, Glazer has created an utterly beguiling -- if not necessarily believable -- approximation of what a gangster retirement would look like: a sybaritic idyll spent sun-baking in genital-embracing Speedos, chest hairs coiled around a gold chain, tormenting the Spanish pool boy, terrorizing burgers to a charred finish on the grill, and pickling in G&Ts while a rough-around-the-edges glamour girl dances around the pool's edge.
At its best, Sexy Beast is memorable filmmaking, as loud, flashy and sure of itself as a money-flush playboy. Why the film has made such an impression on critics starved for stylish, self-assured filmmaking is clear. But while it strives for the icy moral haziness of Brit-crime flicks like Get Carter and Croupier, Sexy Beast feels more on a par with Guy Richie's frantic, self-conscious, tough guy wankery.
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