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review added: 3/14/02



Sexy Beast
2001 (2002) - 20th Century Fox

review by Drew Feinberg of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Sexy Beast

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/B

Specs and Features

89 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2:35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (by actor Ben Kingsley and producer Jeremy Thomas), theatrical trailers (Sexy Beast US & international, Super Troopers, Waking Life and The Deep End), television spot, featurette, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Close Captioned



There are basically two types of retired criminals in movies. The first is Paul Newman in The Color of Money. Sure, he's retired, but you know he's just going through the motions with his legit job. Way down deep, he dreams of hustling again. So when he gets slowly drawn back into that life, you're happy for him; he's a man doing what he was born to do.

The second type is more like Al Pacino in Carlito's Way. He is truly out of the gangster life, simply happy to be a free man (Rehabilitated! Reassimilated! Relocated!), with zero desire to get back into old habits. When he's forced to do "one last job" by scuzzball Sean Penn, you wince, because you know he's not into it all. The task fills him with dread and trepidation, and he just wants it to be over so he can go back to being happy and free once again. In Sexy Beast, our hero, Gal, falls into the second category.

Gal, played to perfection by Ray Winstone, has served his time, and is now living high on the hog. He's utterly content with having gone soft eating calamari, lounging by his custom made lovey-dovey pool, and living in matrimonial bliss with his ex-porn star wife Deedee in his luxurious villa. Just from his opening sun-drenched monologue, and his initial interactions with his wife and friends, one can't help but to like him a lot. You can see he has none of the annoying qualities one associates (by one, I of course mean me, class-warrior that I am) with the rich; he's affable, totally un-self conscious and has not a whiff of pretentiousness in him. He is fully aware he's a lucky fella, knows he has a good thing going, and has no aspirations for anything to change.

Alas, change is imminent. A large boulder comes within a hair of smushing Gal, flames from grills flicker ominously, and he has nightmares of a bizarre man-bunny blowing him away. Which is odd, since Donnie Darko also featured an ominous guy in a bunny suit... guess 2001 was the year for creepy-assed man-hares. Back to Sexy Beast, it becomes apparent that there's a storm a brewin'. The storm's name is Don Logan (Ben Kingsley).

When talking about Don Logan, Gal's gang talks in hushed tones, as if afraid that just uttering his name would cause him to magically appear. He's the gangster version of Candyman. Don Logan is easily the most intimidating badass to grace the big screen in a few years - he'd make Joe Pesci in Goodfellas wet his pants and go running home to his mama. Kingsley plays Logan to perfection as pure testosterone; the thought "Hmmm... is it appropriate to say this?" is one that obviously never enters his mind.

Don has a job for Gal, and an offer from Don is one those Godfather-esque offers you can't refuse. Watching Don and Gal argue about whether he's going to do the job is not unlike watching a child argue with his mother about really wanting a cookie, except the child is David Mamet on speed. Ben Kingsley, as I said, is brilliant in the role, but be forewarned, Kingsley suffers from the same ailment as Begbie in Trainspotting. Besides being utterly psychotic, that is. His accent is incredibly thick, and the average Joe (myself included) might not be able to understand what he's saying most of the time. I would strongly advise watching the movie with subtitles until your brain can adapt to Cockney. It'll make your viewing experience much more pleasant, trust me.

I'll keep it a secret on whether or not Gal gives in to Don's offer, but needless to say there is a heist portion of the film. Although pretty, this is where the film lags a bit. I was more interested in the characters of this film, and seeing a long stretch of movie with little dialogue was a bit of a letdown. But that's really the only low point. Sexy Beast is a movie that has it all: style, perfect score and soundtrack, fantastic performances across the board, a dark sense of humor and, oddly enough, a heart.

I'm sure people will make the obvious comparisons between newbie director Jonathan Glazer and Guy Ritchie; both are British filmmakers who came on the scene with a bang, are quite stylized in their work and each has a keen sense of how to use music to enhance the film. But where Guy Ritchie is more of a showoff, in-your-face kind of a filmmaker, Glazer is more quietly cool. If you were to take Ritchie and sedate him a bit, you'd come up with Glazer. With this kind of debut, I just hope that Glazer comes up with a better sophomore effort than Ritchie's stinky Snatch.

Presented in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen (don't believe the case that reads 1:85:1... like Joe in Say Anything, it lies), the picture is virtually flawless. The saturation is dead on and blacks are pretty darn black. It truly is a sight to see. Sound-wise, you've got Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, and of course, the 5.1 track is the way to go. The dialogue is clear, the mix is expansive, and it uses the surrounds more aggressively than you'd expect from a small British gangster film.

Since I enjoyed the movie so much, I was quite enthused at the notion of listening to the scene-specific commentary. This enthusiasm was pretty much crushed by the fifteen-minute mark. First off, what the heck were they thinking featuring producer Jeremy Thomas on the track? He's drier, less interesting and more flavorless than a month old Triscuit found between the sofa cushions. Kingsley, love him as I do, was more interesting and charismatic, but he was also a tad on the bland side. Both of them had monotone voices that led me to suspect they were under heavy sedation, and there were too many stretches where neither of them would say a word. Kingsley at least had some thoughtful things to say about his character, whereas Thomas would say such fascinating tidbits such as, "There was a lot of, um, discussion about the color of the pee, and how it would, uh, react with the film stock, and I think, you know, to get the right color." If I wanted to hear tedious people discussing pee color at length, I'd watch a home pregnancy test comparison on Oxygen, thank you very much.

The other extras fared better, thankfully. The animated menus perfectly emulate the vibe of the movie, opening with a visual and audio loop of Gal contentedly babbling while sunbathing. Try not to have it on in the background while on the phone with your Aunt Frieda though, Ray Winstone's ecstatic ramblings would be sure to raise an eyebrow. Anyway, the menus are quite pleasant to look at, and there's a cute gunshot/broken glass effect when selecting a menu item.

Included are two Sexy Beast trailers, domestic and international. The domestic is the better of the two, although it is full screen, and is much darker and catchier than its international counterpart. You have to love the catchphrase "Because Don doesn't do no." Talk about an understatement. The international version, which is widescreen, is very washed-out looking, and really doesn't motivate the viewer to run out and see it like the US version does. Then there's a 10 second television spot (not much you can do in 10 seconds), to round things out. Also included are three widescreen trailers for The Deep End, Waking Life and Super Troopers. Gee, does one of those titles stick out like a sore thumb, or is it just me?

Last up is a small featurette than runs about seven minutes long. It's your typical featurette; snips of the trailer interspersed with small clips of the people involved talking about the characters and locale and whatnot. It piqued my interest, and it would have been lovely if it were a full-fledged documentary. But of course, it's the nature of the beast for featurettes to only tease and leave you unsatisfied. Not unlike Polly Perkins, who dumped me in 8th grade and wound up rounding 2nd with the president of the Latin club.

All in all, Sexy Beast is a title that seems to be getting credit solely for Ben Kingsley's performance, but in truth, Ray Winstone holds his own against Kingsley, and the film wouldn't work if he didn't. The entire film is excellent throughout. Sexy Beast is easily in my top 10 of 2001, and there's a good chance it'll make yours too - unless you have some sort of man-hare phobia.

Drew Feinberg
drewfeinberg@thedigitalbits.com




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