Screening at Sundance (Premieres). Dir: Jonathan Glazer. UK. 2000. 84 mins.
A much-anticipated debut from hot UK commercial and video director Jonathan Glazer, Sexy Beast at least lives up to its title. The acrobatic visuals and pumped-up soundtrack are certainly alluring, but the story is a two-act mongrel, a heist film with just a dusting of psychological thriller and even less mystery. That said, Sexy Beast features in Ray Winstone and a knock-out Ben Kingsley two lead performances that will score with the Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels crowd and help others overlook the disappointing caper sequence. And the opening sequence of a sun-blasted, Speedo-clad Winstone baking in the Spanish sun to the beat of The Stranglers offers enough material for a terrific trailer that will be necessary if Sexy Beast is to overcome the lack of marquee power outside its native UK.
Winstone is Gary, a retired UK heist-meister who spends his days roasting at his secluded Spanish hillside hacienda located right in the heart of what the tabloids have dubbed the Costa del Crime. A near miss by a hurtling boulder - it splashes down in his swimming pool - foreshadows the arrival of the formidable cranium of an underworld associate, Don. As portrayed by Kingsley, Don is no less crude and direct than a tumbling chunk of mountainside. He has come to take Gary back to London for another job and he won't take no for an answer. But that is the answer Gary gives and it unleashes a violent confrontation that neatly closes the first act. When we next see Gary, he is in an English downpour waiting for instructions on the job. But where is Don'
Once on screen, Kingsley owns it, motionless except for reptilian eyes (can this have been the same man who played the Mahatma') while the mouth delivers a stream-of-consciousness fusillade of East End invective. Here, screenwriters Mellis and Scinto have a field day, creating a verbal palette for Don's malice loaded with malaprops and spoonerisms like "insinnuendo". Unfortunately for the rest of the cast, such riches are not shared. Once Kingsley is off the screen, all that remains is a frankly ludicrous break-in (conducted entirely underwater, it's as groovy as it is daft) and atmospheric filler that says more about the director's music video roots than his ability to tell a story.
To his credit Glazer, who has shot clips for Radiohead and Massive Attack, makes the most of his 84 minutes; the film never loses pace. But its Tarantinoesque ambitions are more clever than effective. Rather than repetitious dialogue and cool shots of revolving doors, a little more back story would go a long way towards establishing why exactly Gary was the man for Don (there is no inkling of Gary's criminal speciality) and reinforcing the fear and loathing with which Gary views Don's arrival - and speeds his departure.
Prod cos: FilmFour, Recorded Picture Co. US dist: Fox Searchlight. Int'l sales: FilmFour. Prod: Jeremy Thomas. Scr: Louis Mellis, David Scinto. Cinematographer: Ivan Bird. Prod des: John Scott. Ed: Scott, Sam Sneade. Music: Roque Banos. Main cast: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Amanda Redman, Ian McShane.