'Sexy Beast' isn't easily categorized into any one movie genre, and that's part of the reason it's such a fantastic film. You'll usually find it referred to as a crime drama, but it's not really that. Nor is it really a dark comedy, heist movie, or a gangster film. Yet it contains all those elements and more. Heck, there's even a dab of the fantasy/horror genre. It's got crackling (and more often than not profane) dialogue, stunning visuals, and a soundtrack full of songs that would make even Martin Scorsese jealous.
The plot of the movie is rather simple. So simple, in fact, that my describing it here is in no way going to be able to convey the impact that the movie has on the viewer. The film opens by introducing us to the main character, Gal Dove (Ray Winstone, in a performance every bit as Oscar-worthy as Ben Kingsley's is), who is lounging by a pool all oiled up and basking in the intense heat at a Spanish villa. He's enjoying the good life, which is suddenly interrupted by a huge boulder that comes rumbling down the hillside, barely missing him and landing in his pool. It's a creative way of foreshadowing the real danger that will soon arrive at Gal's doorstep.
Gal lives happily at the villa with his wife, Deedee (Amanda Redman) and married friends Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White), and as the story unfolds we come to understand that Gal and the others were once involved in some very illegal activities back in England, but have retired from that life to spend their remaining days in the Spanish sun. That is, until one night when Jackie and Aitch meet Gal and Deedee for dinner and inform Gal that they've just gotten a call from one of his former crime associates, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley). The change of everyone's mood at the table is enough to tell the viewer that Logan is an extremely dangerous man – and everyone knows what Logan is coming for. He's going to ask Gal to come back to London for assistance in some sort of criminal scheme.
Logan arrives on the scene like an animal stalking his prey. His intense stares and silence are only interrupted by his verbal outbursts, and when he can't get Gal to agree to come back with him, his verbal attacks get more and more personal to the point where he finally turns to the physical to get his point across. It's the final confrontation that leads Gal to finally accept the job, but not for reasons immediately obvious (nor ones that I will reveal in this review). The last bit of the movie has Gal returning to London to work for Logan's boss, Teddy Bass (played by Ian McShane), whom Gal will also have to deal with before he's able to return to his wife and friends.
'Sexy Beast' relies more on anticipation than violence to tell its story. There are a few acts of extreme violence in the movie, but they're almost a relief after the tense moments that lead up to them. Both Logan and Bass are lethal snakes just waiting to strike – it's the when and the how that provide the real tension in the movie.
Another strength of the movie is the casting. Had this script (by Louis Mellis and David Scinto) found its way into the hands of some big Hollywood producers, I have no doubt the roles in this film would have been filled by young 20 or 30-somethings, which would have been all wrong for the story being told. Not only do I like the fact that the movie almost exclusively focuses on middle-aged to older characters (Gal's pool boy aside), but also the fact that these are clearly 'broken' people, where everyone is either hiding from their past or, in the case of Logan and Bass, looking to re-live it again.
I would be remiss if I didn't take a few sentences of this review to mention how well-directed 'Sexy Beast' is. Helmed by first-time director Jonathan Glazer, almost every shot of the movie seems well-thought-out and meticulously framed (director of photography Ivan Bird obviously also deserves a lot of the credit). Glazer does such a remarkable job here, it's somewhat surprising his only feature film since 'Sexy Beast' has been the Nicole Kidman vehicle 'Birth', although he's due to release the sci-fi movie 'Under The Skin' (with Scarlett Johansson) this fall.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sexy Beast' arrives on Blu-ray as a limited edition (3,000 pieces only) from Twilight Time, meaning those interested in this title will want to make their way to the Screen Archives site as soon as possible to secure a copy. The 50GB dual-layer disc is housed in a standard keepcase with a full-color 8-page booklet as an insert. There are no front-loaded trailers, and the menu consists of a still from the movie, with menu selections along the right-side of the screen.
One of the more interesting aspects of this release is that viewers will have an option of watching the movie in either the 2.35:1 or the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. From what research I could gather on the Internet, it appears as if 2.35:1 was both the ratio for the film's theatrical release as well as the prior Region 1 DVD release (although the cover for the DVD seems to mistakenly say it's a 1.85:1 ratio). The current Region B Blu-ray release of the movie, however, is at the 1.85:1 ratio. As one would guess, the 2.35:1 offers more information on the sides of the screen, while the 1.78:1 version gives viewers more on the top and bottom. This is one of those rare cases where the 1.78:1 version actually seems to suit the movie better, even if the intent was to show it at 2.35:1 – but viewers have both options here, so one can decide for himself/herself which they prefer most.
The biggest disappointment with the picture (both the 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 versions seem to have been taken from the same master) is the amount of dirt still on the film. It's less obvious during the nighttime scenes and the latter dimly-shot stuff that takes place in London, but the Spanish scenes shot during the daylight (a big chunk of the movie's first hour) are just riddled with black and white flecks and speckles that are more than a bit distracting. That issue aside, the movie looks relatively good in HD, although there's an overall softness (and hence, lack of strong detail) that appears to be more a result of the way the movie was shot (some scenes appear as if they used filtered lenses) than any issue with the transfer itself. Other than that, contrast is good, black levels are strong (if not outstanding), and no digital compression or artifact issues are evident.
'Sexy Beast' is one of those rare titles where you don't want the musical soundtrack balanced equally with the dialogue. The musical cues in the movie have always been a little louder and a little stronger than the spoken word (think David Lynch, but not quite to his extreme), and both the 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks convey it nicely. While the 2.0 track gives one an audio experience closely resembling the original theatrical soundtrack, the 5.1 track adds enough directionality and immersiveness to make it the superior of the two options. The music is one of the big reasons 'Sexy Beast' is as much fun as it is, and the DTS-HD Master Audio tracks we get on this disc are easily the highlights of this release.
Subtitles are available in English SDH.
'Sexy Beast' is one of those movies that is almost impossible to describe in terms of quality. People simply have to see it firsthand. With great dialogue, well-rounded characters, a rockin' soundtrack, and visuals that are nothing short of stunning, this is a film that will stick with you long after your first viewing. Highly rewatchable even though the transfer and extras here leave a little to be desired, 'Sexy Beast' is recommended (assuming you can grab a copy before the 3,000 sell out).