An ex-pat ex-con (Ray Winstone) has his retirement interrupted by his psychotic boss (Ben Kingsley) who arrives in Spain with all the charm and composure of an English person arriving in Spain.
Jonathan Glazer had made high-profile adverts and some of the best music videos of the ’90s (Street Spirit (Fade Out) by Radiohead, Rabbit in Your Headlights by UNKLE) before shooting his debut feature in 2000; a gangster flick that feels a bit like Get Carter, if Get Carter had been directed by the man who did the video for Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity. Opening on a sunbathing Ray holding a cold flannel to his Winstones, the film only gets more disturbing from there. Kingsley’s arrival is announced in hushed tones like they’re about to receive a visit from fucking Gandhi, and that’s exactly who shows up: Fucking Gandhi.
In a hilarious bit of casting that toys with said role (which is visually referenced in one shot where he’s wearing white pants), the Oscar-winner delivers a truly bastardly performance and the greatest movie shouting since Leon. The actor claims to have been channelling his racist grandmother in a character that’s somewhere between Ralph Fiennes from In Bruges and Alan Sugar; “I’m just going to have to turn this opportunity down.” “No, you’re just going to have to turn this opportunity yes!”
With forceful turns from Winstone, Ian McShane and James Fox, Sexy Beast has style to burn and stunningly colourful dialogue. To quote comedian Greg Proops: “There are 115 fucks in this movie, and there are 21 cunts in this movie. This movie is 89 minutes long.” It’s surprising then that it also contains quite deep, complex relationships and a way of getting under the skin that’s rare for the genre but befits the director of Under The Skin. Glazer’s initial optimism fades to existential dread, each scene darker and more intense than the last. It’s a heist picture where the (frankly insane) heist has nothing to do with it; the focus is on people and their power over and feelings towards one another.
Unpredictable, iconic and ironic, the film’s impact can be seen in the glossy advert-looking horror of Revenge, Adam Buxton’s No! jingle and O’Ryan from Event Horizon Crescent; “My favourite band is Genesis.” “Your favourite band is yes!” Tell me Ben, has there been a better British gangster film in the last 40 odd years?