Neo-Noirvember: ‘Sexy Beast’, The Ben Kingsley Boulder of Madness

Anyone with the slightest grip on the idea of metaphors in film can recognize the giant tumbling destruction of a metaphor in the opening scene of Sexy Beast. We see “Gal” (Ray Winstone), a retired thief, baking in the Spanish sun, poolside at his posh villa. He moves with the urgency of a man without a care, loping around his pool to grab a beer, his shoes, and a handheld fan. And then, tumbling down the hillside comes the boulder, a gigantic rolling stone of destruction that launches from the ridge, into the air, just missing Gal, and slamming into the tiles of the pool floor. It’s a comedic moment in a first act full of mirth, but perhaps Gal should have known then, this boulder was an ominous announcement.

Sexy Beast

Gal is married to Deedee (Amanda Redman), a retired porn star looking to distance herself from her former life just as much as her adoring husband. They are in love, and they enjoy late nights and dinner parties with their two close friends, Aitch and Jackie, two more stowaways from the drabness of a London underworld. This idyllic setting proves too good to be true before long, as a call comes to Aitch from London. A job is on the table and Gal’s old crew has requested his participation. But it’s less about that problem, and more about the problem of the voice on the other end of the phone. The very mention of the caller on the other end, who is heading out to Spain to retain Gal’s services personally, is enough to break apart the serenity Gal and Deedee have so carefully manicured.

It is Don Logan.

The mere uttering of Don Logan – it’s almost impossible for Aitch to spit the poisonous name out of his mouth – pierces the Spanish countryside like a knife, and director Jonathan Glazer wonderfully shifts the tone of the film from carefree and hedonistic, to one of nervous energy and fear. You can see it in all their eyes, their shifting weight, the slack in their face. Without knowing anything about Don Logan, you know he is something horrible, almost inhuman, a myth. But Don Logan is not a myth, he is very much real, and one of the greatest creations in all of crime cinema.

Ben Kingsley plays Logan. The man who once played Ghandi, who played the timid Jewish Accountant Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List, now embodies a volcanic madman. It’s a 180 for Kingsley, and one of his best performances. Don arrives like a bullet through plate glass, spewing nervous energy, cultivating anxiety and nervousness to everyone around him, and refusing to take “no” from Gal, who is powerless in his presence. With his starched white shirt and smooth bald sheen, Don Logan is the boulder come to life, a reptilian beast, wrecking everything in his path. It’s no coincidence he arrives at the villa just as the boulder itself is being hauled away.

Sexy Beast

Logan spends two days tormenting poor Gal with threats and insults and hair-trigger psychotic outbursts. It is a frightening turn from Kingsley, a pure joy to behold. Gal refuses the job again and again, but Don will hear none of it. The job itself has its own interesting twists and turns involving orgies, a Turkish Bath, and one Ian McShane as the mastermind. But any of the third act, where Gal arrives to pull off the job for reasons of self preservation, pales in comparison to the lightning bolt of ferocity behind the mad eyes of Kingsley’s Don Logan.

Glazer, a sparse director who’s only features are Sexy Beast, the morose and detached Nicole Kidman film Birth, and the captivating 2013 thriller Under the Skin, shows off gleeful panache here. It’s not just some cold-twisted noir heist film, it is alive with flourishes, frightening dream sequences, and a hard-charged techno soundtrack that almost serves as Don Logan’s personal music. Forgetting the bookends of the film is understandable, but a slight. Sexy Beast can easily be broken into its three acts: the first is a delightful, funny, and charming glimpse into the life of a happy fat cat, the third a desperate play for survival.

And the second, well, the second is simply Don Logan.

Header Photo: [BezerkArtwerk]

Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry is the managing editor for Monkeys Fighting Robots. The Dalai Lama once told him when he dies he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him... Which is nice.

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