Film Reviews


By • Jun 13th, 2001 •

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I’ve seen three remarkable performances so far this year that get us deep inside a character’s psyche: Pierce Brosnan in THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, Guy Pierce in MEMENTO, and, most striking, Ben Kingsley in SEXY BEAST .
We don’t have a lifetime for personality evaluation and analysis, so it’s up to the actor to let us see a character’s raw subconscious at work.

Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) is an ex-con who is now reveling in his blissful retirement on Spain’s magnificent Costa del Sol. He’s got a fantastic villa complete with a house boy, an ex-porn wife Deedee (Amanda Redman) he adores, and devoted London expatriate friends Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White). Gal is a big, fleshy man who is very pleased with himself: He got out of the gangster life with a ton of money. Gal’s idyllic life is penetrated by the arrival of his gangster nemesis Don Logan (Ben Kingsley).

Kingsley was internationally honored for work he did way back in 1982. Thankfully, Kingsley understands that he’s an actor who must inhabit fresh identities in his chosen profession. I refuse to dredge up his “heroic” past performances (Robert Payne’s massive biography, “The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi” paints quite a controversial portrait of the man). I prefer to discuss Kingsley’s brilliant work as the psychopath Don Logan. So the stage is pristinely set with the gorgeous, tranquil villa and the bloated contentment of Gal.

A phone call announcing the imminent arrival of Don Logan causes Gal, Deedee, Aitch, and Jackie into catatonic fear. Apparently, all of them have had some kind of a relationship with Don and are very afraid of him. Yet, it’s only Gal and Aitch who non-verbally communicate absolute dread. We can tell that they have seen Don’s cruelty and violent proclivities firsthand. The women treat him like an unwanted house guest with luggage.

Aitch and Jackie pick Don up at the airport and bring Don to Gal’s house. Jackie is cold and mute; Aitch is terrified. Kingsley does not disappoint them or us. Small, athletically compact, fierce, and fueled with anger he descends upon them. Don assesses Gal’s new life and is appalled at how fat and passively happy he is. Don has come to take Gal back to London for one more bank heist masterminded by arch-criminal Teddy Bass (Ian McShane). He refuses to accept Gal’s claim he is retired. Don lunges at Gal with a ferocious “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” He refuses to take “No” for an answer. He denigrates and belittles Deedee’s former sordid past. He tells Gal he slept with Jackie. When Gal accuses Don of using the job as an excuse to see Jackie, he admits he is still interested in her and then immediately leaves for the airport.

I was surprised when Don left, but it is a device that serves to show us that he is in such a rage that he must leave. His anger boils over in a very bold scene on the plane. Forced to deplane and held by Spanish officials, he cleverly concocts a bizarre story. Released, he immediately heads back to Gal’s villa.

What follows at the villa, the bank heist in London, and ironic denouement make for a tensely perverse gangster film. Ian McShane and James Fox (as the bank’s president) are well cast. SEXY BEAST is Kingsley’s film: He completely possesses his character’s inner life and freely displays it for us.

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