Can a gangster ever retire? As Sexy Beast opens, Gal (Ray Winstone) is sunbaking by the pool of his Spanish villa. He's not long out of prison, and has moved with his wife Deedee (Amanda Redman) and another couple, Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White), to Spain. Gal's enjoying the easy life, until he learns Don Logan (Ben Kinglsey) is on his way to take him back to London for a "job".We know Logan spells trouble, because news of his phone call is enough to ruin everybody's evening. Kingsley played Meyer Lansky in Bugsy ten years ago, but that was nothing to the presence he exerts as Logan. With his solid, muscular physique and bullet-shaped head, Logan exudes power whilst sitting stock-still. His Cockney speech is peppered with expletives, and he stares Gal - and everyone around him - into cowering submission. Logan demands that Gal tell him why he won't do the job: "I'm a good listener" he barks at him. When Gal tries to explain, Logan roars back "shut up!". The phrase "won't take 'no' for an answer" could have been coined about Don Logan.
Director Jonathan Glazer and first-time screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto realise that Logan's intensity could easily imbalance the film. Although Kingsley's a riveting presence, it's a relief to have a break from him. There's a marvellously apposite scene where Gal, Deedee, Aitch and Jackie are "hosting" Logan at Gal's villa. One by one, they each find an excuse to escape to the kitchen, until Logan is left sitting ramrod straight on the lounge, alone. Winstone's bearish lethargy makes him a perfect foil to Kingsley. The supporting players are all spot on.
Thanks to the performances and a smart script, Sexy Beast is more about character than crime. When Gal returns to London (Logan makes that development inevitable), the robbery is treated almost perfunctorily. Glazer thankfully doesn't rely on the anticipation of violence to titillate the audience, unusual for a modern heist film. Despite his background in advertising and music video, he directs with a minimum of trickery.
There's one unusual device - a human-sized rabbit-monster in Gal's psyche - that appears twice. Thankfully, this isn't enough to overburden an unpretentious little film with weightier pretensions. Ivan Bird's photography (which includes a lot of underwater work) effectively contrasts sun-drenched Spain with London's gloom.The British film industry isn't usually shy about triumphing its successes, but they've been unjustly quiet about Sexy Beast. Don't miss it.