Monday, May 10, 2010

Sexy Beast

My quest to get inside the mind of Actor Ian McShane continues... a Sexy Beast indeed. It's okay, I'm confident in my manhood.

The British crime gangster genre - a niche unto itself - served up a gem in 2001. The film Sexy Beast [2001] [often cited as one of the 25 best British films ever made] was delivered by Director Jonathan Glazer. The crime thriller, with alot on its mind, was packaged like a little indie-styled picture, but it packs a wallop of a punch and feels much bigger than its tense, tautly-scripted Louis Mellis and David Scinto [44 Inch Chest] story would have you believe. The sharp and vicious dialogue is complemented by Glazer's clever, flashy, fun direction that is also wholly British. This wit in his filming style is evident thanks in part to his work in the world of music video with the likes of Blur, Radiohead and Massive Attack.

Sexy Beast was a veritable dream for fans who relish the art of performance. Three big time British actors, Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley and Ian McShane, serve up huge, powerhouse performances. They are flawless and a joy to watch. Each performance is perfect in its own right and the film, with its quirky indie style, delivers a simple narrative that is razor sharp and deliciously entertaining thanks to these three enormous talents. Even the minor characters contribute stunning little turns throughout the film including Amanda Redman, James Fox, Cavan Kendall and Julianne White.

There is no doubt Ben Kingsley as Don Logan takes the cake for the juiciest of the three roles in Sexy Beast. Kingsley was nominated as Best Supporting Actor by the Academy in 2001. Logan, a savage, pit bull of a gangster, is a frothing, venomous, nasty, rabid, miserable, electrifying animal so tightly wound he could explode at any moment and often does. He is a crucible of evil and the very mention of his name strikes fear into the hearts of women and men who have come within his sphere of influence.

Don Logan is synonymous with the boogie man. He's even represented by a hideous, monstrous jack rabbit creature, a symbol of death for Winstone's character, a symbol of his past he cannot outrun. This is juxtaposed by a scene earlier when the men are unable to kill a live jack rabbit in the Spanish desert. It is symbolic of their fortunes or lack thereof to come.

While Kingsley certainly lands a glory role which even led to the Best Supporting Actor nod, the film is anchored by Winstone's tremendous, sincere performance as Gary "Gal" Dove, which is absolutely note perfect. As a near over the hill retiree gangster from the heist life, Winstone is beautiful. Overweight, tired, and finding happiness and love in the warmth of Spain's hot, summer sun, Gal lures the audience into his sympathetic conundrum. Despite a dark, distasteful and obviously unsavory past, we're rooting for Gal. He's a reformed man. He's changed. We understand his plight. Due to an unforeseen dilemma, and despite Gal's ovation to Logan to insist to him that he is a retired man, Gal is forced to carry out yet another dangerous mission back in London since Logan just won't take NO for an answer. The final act is thrilling. Gal may be the only one of the three men with a conscience. Ian McShane rounds out the film like the proverbial icing on the cake. Some of the scenes to follow feature the work of both McShane and Winstone.

McShane as psychopathic criminal mastermind Teddy Bass, is easily as menacing as the tightly wound Logan, but far more sophisticated and smooth as the crime boss in charge of the operation. McShane delivers. He carries himself as the head cheese and barely needs to say a thing to know that his Teddy Bass is a cold-blooded killer.

He will utilize sex and violence to attain his goals, but is far more polished than the snarling Logan in pulling off his heists. When he discovers Logan is missing he calmly approaches Gal for answers to certain questions. These scenes are pure heaven for fans of McShane.

McShane is delectably brilliant in his small, but potent supporting role. I've seen the film a few times and it is a classic worthy of your time if you enjoy films with strong character writing. Sexy Beast is a sexy piece of work with a deep exploration of character study, especially the heart of the film's lead.

In keeping with my ongoing love letter to the works of Ian McShane I'm pleased to bring you one of McShane's finest performances a la Sexy Beast. As for which character Sexy Beast refers, that is left to the viewer to decide in my humble opinion. It could be any one of these men. The smart money is on Ray Winstone for the sexy, Kingsley for the beast, but McShane is a lethally vital part of this sexy little film and gives us the whole enchilada. Behold the immense talents and sheer awesome sexiness of Kingsley, McShane and Winstone with this beast of a film when time permits. Sexy Beast is a classic that ranks with the original Get Carter [1971] starring Michael Caine and The Limey [1999] with Terence Stamp.

Sexy Beast: A-


J.D. said...

Excellent write-up! I really dig this film and have been a fan of Ray Winstone's for quite some time. He really brings a lot of depth to this film and I love how the script really plays around with the conventions of the British gangster genre. I always felt that SEXY BEAST would make a good double bill with Stephen Frear's '80s gangster film, THE HIT.

And as for Glazer, I wish he would direct more films. He really did a wonderful job with this film and I enjoyed even more his follow-up BIRTH, which had a definite Kubrickian chill to it and features one of Nicole Kidman's best performances to date.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks J.D..

I've become a huge Winstone fan myself. The guy is a tremendous actor. I'm looking forward to Edge Of Darkness for both Gibson and Winstone's performances.

I'm also looking forward to checking out 44 Inch Chest though I understand it isn't nearly as good as Sexy Beast unfortunately. Still, it has Ray Winstone, John Hurt and my man Ian McShane to start.

I also love The Proposition with Winstone and Guy Pearce. That is another genre-defying accomplishment. I think that film does for the Western what Sexy Beast does for the British gangster film.

Glazer is indeed impressive and I will need to check out the films you mentioned.

One final point, Sexy Beast takes on new dimensions upon second and third viewings. That is rare in a film, but I actually enjoyed Sexy Beast as much, if not more, the second time.

But folks J.D. is right, Sexy Beast breaks with convention, but is still a largely embraceable film. There's not a dull moment in the picture. Thanks for your input J.D. as always.

J.D. said...

I totally forgot to mention Ian McShane in my last comment! Yeah, it's so great to see him enjoying a career resurgence thanks to DEADWOOD and now he's gonna be in the new PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film?! Wow. But he even enlivens small films like HOT ROD, a fairly harmless, innocuous comedy but he manages to steal every scene he's in.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I found your blog from a Google Alert on Ian McShane. McShane's work deserves some in-depth exploration, and you're doing a great job, I'm enjoying reading what you have to say, and appreciate the visuals and clips. BTW, like Sexy Beast, 44 Inch Chest takes on new dimensions upon each new viewing. It may seem straight-forward at first but deepens and broadens each time you see it.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

It's refreshing to see such great feedback.

J.D.: Thanks. I agree. McShane makes the most out of his moments. HOT ROD is on my radar. I did hear about Pirates. DEADWOOD is a corker! Thanks again.

Anonymous: A pleasure to have you stop by. That is reassuring to hear indeed. I look forward to 44 Inch Chest and given my love of McShane, Hurt and Winstone I believe I will treasure the chest if you will. : ) Thanks for your input. Sexy Beast is a ringer and your articulate thoughts on 44 Inch Chest have me jazzed for it that much more.