I Believe in Miracles
Ah, to be a beached Beluga Whale, slathered with tanning oil baking in the Spanish sun. Aside from the overweight visual, relaxing by a pool, far from your workaday worries sounds rather like an appealing option and it is with this visual introduction to our unlikely hero Gal Dove, that Sexy Beast lures its unsuspecting prey into an emotional bear trap. Once sprung, the film exhibits a tenacious grip with visceral jaws that make otherwise reticent audience members wince. The calm with which Sexy Beast opens, just begs to be rudely interrupted, and freshman director Jonathan Glazer wastes precious little time.
The vision of Gal (Ray Winstone) applying sun tan lotion, occasional grunting or sighing with relief and/or ecstasy, curiously placing a wash cloth soaked in ice water over his genitals and ordering the pool boy to "put more back into it" as he sweeps around the periphery of the chlorinated waters might just be the oddest and most beguiling opening sequence ever filmed. But with these few economical strokes, Glazer has forged his audience's allegiance to Gal regardless of his imminent actions or his past.
You see, Gal is a retired ex-con, who has successfully shoehorned himself out of a life of crime and into the warm confines of his Spanish villa. He lives there with his wife whom he very touchingly and sincerely loves. But the aforementioned calm only makes the brewing storm all that much more fearsome. The hurricane that descends is Don Logan, a vituperative thug whose weapon of choice are insults, epitaphs and verbal abuse the likes of which have seldom been seen or heard on the big screen.
Ben Kingsley, with a polished cue ball scalp and a Mephistophelean goatee, inhabits Don Logan with menace and dread. In fact the very mention of his name, before Kingsley even appears on screen, is enough to erase the tans from Gal, Donna, his wife, and their two friends Jackie and Aitch. Don has traveled to Spain to ask Gal to come out of retirement and join a bank heist caper back in not-so-merry old England. Don, with the inexplicable nickname of Malki, simply won't take no for an answer and try as he might, Gal is up against an immoveable force. The verbal wrecking ball that is unleashed is relentless. A full half of the insults and slurs, which Logan hurls, are words that Americans will be completely unfamiliar with, but this is irrelevant. It is the malicious conduit rather than the Cockney content that is so repugnant. With Kinsley's delivery, Logan could have called Gal a Bunny and made it sound like something that would make a foul-mouthed sailor blush.
Through a series of domino-like narrative actions and reactions, Gal is thrust back into the world he renounced. The bank heist involves tunneling under water in a spa swimming pool to gain access to a treasure trove vault. The sight of overweight gangsters with scuba gear prying open safety deposit boxes underwater is in keeping with the slightly off-center surreality of the entire story. Visually, the film achieves a marvelous style that induces tension with the ease of snapping one's fingers. The submerged burglary towards the end of the film bookends perfectly with the opening sequences by the sun-drenched Spanish pool.
Winstone is perfectly cast as the genial yet ineffective Gal. His schlubby posture, weathered countenance and sandy blond hair belie choices regretted and a yearning for a better life. The five other characters in this rather tight ensemble group don't hit an off-key note and each contributes to the sense of trepidation and anxiety.
It is Kingsley, however, who delivers a bravura performance and while his screen time is actually judiciously small, his Don Logan fills the theater with evil and impending doom. Both on and off screen, Don Logan is a villain with acid tongue and malice to spare.
Not everyone will have empathy with the lovable lug Gal but for those who do, Sexy Beast offers an emotionally terrifying thrill ride that will leave one feeling battered, bruised and emotionally spent. Is that a good feeling? You'll have to be the judge, but disinterest will be the furthest sentiment from your intellectual palette leaving the theater.