A bitter, vicious, energised and intensely sour film, Sexy Beast hovers somewhere between a David Lynch film and a Harold Pinter play. It’s an incredibly nasty and violent film – in every sense of the word. It’s a film with a grit and menace that means it rises above the usual tone of British gangster flicks of the post Lock Stock and Two Smoking barrels era.
There is a sense of menace in Sexy Beast that really mirrors Harold Pinter’s work. The playwright once said that his plays are “about the weasel under the cocktail cabinet”, and while he has said repeatedly that this was complete gibberish, I maintain that there is some truth in it. For the menace of plays like Pinter’s The Birthday Party lies beneath the quaintness and perfectness of ordinary British life – like a weasel hidden in a cocktail cabinet. Sexy Beast is of a similar tone. There’s an unpredictable aspect to the dialogue, a venom that shatters Gal (Ray Winston) and his idyllic retirement from a life as a gangster. Ben Kingsley’s “Don” is almost a collage of Goldberg and Mcann from the Birthday Party, a disconcerting mix of praise and resentment. He shouts, slaps, says the C word a lot, maintains a bizarre set of morals and runs on a sort of code of politeness.
Glazer’s film is not a stage play transferred to the screen though. A man who has great vision and creativity formed by working in music videos, what he does on screen adds to the bizarreness of this wayward gangster film. The heist Gal partakes in is done with an astonishing sense of rhythm, pace and editing skill, flickering between abstract visuals and action.
Sexy Beast is an absurd, questioning, bewildering and altogether quite intelligent crime film.