Sexy Beast is a curious beast (sorry) of a film, managing to be both familiar crime caper (retired career criminal being dragged into the classic one-last-heist-that’s-bound-to-go-wrong) and surreal psychological drama (scary man-sized bunnies!) at the same time.
The film’s premise is simple and completely unremarkable: Gary ‘Gal’ Dove (Ray Winstone in familiar east-end gangster mode) has retired from his life of crime to his Spanish villa, where he lives in domestic bliss with his ex-pornstar wife, and friends Aitch and Jackie. His peaceful life of sunbathing and playfully berating his Spanish odd-job kid is rudely interrupted by a familiar (and extremely unwelcome) face from the past, Don Logan, who wants Gal to come out of retirement for a big heist.
So far, so standard.
Except it’s at this point where Sexy Beast goes pleasingly off-piste. Whereas most heist films concentrate on the planning and execution of the crime, Sexy Beast instead focuses on the psychological and social impact that Don has when he reappears in Gal’s life. The eventual heist itself is almost an afterthought, which is as it should be – this is a film about love, desire and retribution, not an overly elaborate heist.
While Ray Winstone and the rest of the cast play their roles convincingly, it’s Ben Kingsley who absolutely steals the show as sociopath Don. Everything about his performance – from the way he delivers his lines, to his posture – creates a huge degree of tension that underpins the entire film. He’s so unbalanced, so unpredictable, that you feel uneasy the entire time he’s on the screen. It’s no surprise that his performance as Don earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.
As Don’s frenetic behaviour escalates, so do the stakes. The result is a sharp, explosive film that manages to be intelligent at the same time. There’s a pleasing leanness to it all as well, as the film clocks in at under 90 minutes – while the eventual heist does feature, it’s a relatively short sequence and avoids the unnecessary showboating that many other heist films display.
Bonus points are awarded for the terrifying demon bunny who appears in a couple of the film’s more surreal moments – it’s an odd counterpoint to the cerebral action, but somehow it works.
If you’re a fan of heist movies, fancy watching some proper acting, or have a thing for demon bunnies, then Sexy Beast is well worth a watch.