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Ex-con Gary "Gal" Dove has served his time behind bars and is blissfully retired to a Spanish villa paradise with a wife he adores. The idyll is shattered by the arrival of his nemesis Don Logan, intent on persuading Gal to return to London for one last big job. Desperate not to sacrifice his enchanted existence, Dove is drawn into a shocking and explosive battle of wills with Logan, a battle that redefines his notions of love, honor and commitment.
For more about Sexy Beast and the Sexy Beast Blu-ray release, see Sexy Beast Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 13, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, Amanda Redman, James Fox
Director: Jonathan Glazer (I)
» See full cast & crew
Sexy Beast Blu-ray Review
No more Mr. Nice Gandhi.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 13, 2013
Martin Sheen once quipped that the reason Gandhi won so many Oscars is that the title character epitomized everything everyone in Hollywood wanted to be—namely thin, tan and moral. Sir Ben Kingsley, the actor who helped bring Gandhi fully to life in Richard Attenborough's biographical film, is on hand in a decidedly different kind of role in Sexy Beast, one which brought him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor, and for those who only associate Kingsley with "kinder, gentler" portrayals, it can be something of a shock to the system to see him careening through this film as a half-mad gangster trying to get a former associate to return to the fold (so to speak) for the vaunted "one last job". In fact Kingsley is at least bronzed in the film, and rather slim to boot, but one would hardly call his character of Don Logan as anything approaching moral. Logan is nothing short of a sociopath, maybe even a psychopath, and Kingsley's raw energy in depicting such a vile character makes Sexy Beast an often unbelievably visceral experience. Director Jonathan Glazer, making his feature film debut after achieving success with music videos and commercials, brings a free wheeling looseness to what is typically a cloistered genre governed by hard and fast rules. But the screenplay by Louis Mellis and David Scinto eschews typical caper tropes to concentrate more on character and ambience, often with an almost satirical bent. The main character of the film is not in fact Logan, but retired safecracker Gary Dove (Ray Winstone), who goes by the nickname "Gal". Now, right off the bat, we have some indication of how Sexy Beast is going to defy convention—would you name a hardened criminal Gal Dove? Gal has left his criminal ways behind him and is happily ensconced in an impossibly luxurious Spanish villa perched high above the Mediterranean Sea on the aptly named Costa del Sol. We first meet Gal as he soaks in some of that sol, and while he is probably a bit too portly to qualify for Sheen's trifecta of Hollywood desire, he is in fact very tan and, as we soon come to find out, rather remarkably moral.
Sexy Beast repeatedly defies convention almost from the first moment. We get rather long, lingering shots of Gal sunning himself underneath the opening credits sequence, and then, in what turns out to be merely the first in a series of bizarre elements that kind of come out of left field (or in this case from above), a gigantic boulder catapults down the hill above Gal's home, barely missing him as he stands gazing at his pool, and then lands with a gigantic splash in the pool. It's funny, weird, and just slightly unsettling, but it turns out to be a rather suitable metaphor and/or warning shot: Gal is certainly in danger, though he may be blissfully ignorant of it.
That same willfully insouciant quality continues as we meet three more characters, Gal's wife Deedee (Amanda Richman) and their best friends, Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Aitch's wife Jackie (Julianne White). The first half hour or so of the film are seemingly unrelated to the main thrust of the film, with a series of slow revelations that lets us in on the fact that Gal is in fact an ex-con who has survived a pretty long stint in the joint and who has now found respite of a certain sort in Spain. Only when Aitch and Jackie join Gal and Deedee for a dinner, and Jackie is obviously very troubled about something, does the real plot finally spring into motion. With hushed, bated breath, Jackie—almost afraid to even mention the name—finally manages to blurt out that she's received a phone call inquiring about Gal's "services" from Don Logan (Ben Kingsley). It's completely clear simply from the reactions around the table that Logan is not someone to mess around with, let alone cross.
With the arrival of Don in Spain Sexy Beast finally tips its hand in terms of what everything has been building up to. In a brilliantly staged sequence that plays like a cinematic version of Chinese nesting dolls, Don sits Gal down to talk about a proposed heist, while the film repeatedly cuts away to various "layers" of the same story being relayed through various characters. It's a breathtaking sequence, and one which effortlessly introduces several more major supporting characters, including Teddy Bass, a mob boss who's organizing the caper and who is using Don to recruit various gangsters, and banker Harry (James Fox), the mark for the caper, whom Teddy had met at an upscale orgy, assumedly as a sex partner (the film is just slightly discursive in this regard, but it's not hard to pick up the implication). The bank vault that Harry manages is supposedly impregnable, but Teddy is convinced there's a way in, and as Don states in his first attempt to woo Gal back into his erstwhile line of work, part of the thrill of robbery is not the actual theft but the buzz doing something difficult gives the participants.
As much as the film actually seems to be about the attempt to break into the vault, what it really focuses on is the steadfast and resolute defiance of Gal to have his idyllic lifestyle with Deedee—whom he unabashedly adores— significantly interrupted. Kingsley's rather frightening devolution from intense but basically nonviolent cajoling to something decidedly more threatening provides the film's dramatic spark (and it is an absolutely unforgettable performance), but it's Winstone's calm, quiet determination to get through the madness in one piece that provides Sexy Beast with its real emotional resonance.
Sexy Beast refuses to be pigeonholed into any one genre, which is one of the film's most appealing attributes, even if it also means some viewers may be confused by the sudden changes in tone from black comedy to almost horrific drama. Highlighted by some very smart writing and direction, and buoyed by phenomenal performances, especially by Kingsley and Winstone, Sexy Beast is a one of kind experience that repays repeated viewings more than typical caper films which give up their secrets after one time through and rarely manage to intrigue after that first viewing.
Sexy Beast Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sexy Beast is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time (licensing masters provided by Fox) with AVC encoded 1080p transfers (yes, transfers) in both 2.35:1 and 1.78:1. It's odd that a non-theatrical aspect ratio is included here, though videophiles will know that all too often 1.85:1 films are often either presented outright in 1.78:1 or overscanned to appear that way. IMDb lists the OAR as 2.35:1, and my assumption is 2.35:1 is correct insofar as theatrical exhibition goes, though the 1.78:1 framing is not inherently problematic in any major way. The 2.35:1 framing obviously has quite a bit more information on the sides, with a bit less on the top and bottom, while the 1.78:1 framing reverses those aspects (no pun intended). (I have included screenshots from both versions so that readers can compare the "looks" of both of them.)
In terms of the actual quality of these transfers, the elements here are perhaps just slightly more problematic than with the bulk of newer Twilight Time catalog releases, with a bit more specks, dust, and even white spots cropping up from time to time. The overall look here is often quite soft, especially in midrange shots (see the screenshots of Kingsley walking in the airport for a good example). Balancing these issues is really gorgeously saturated color, though it's obvious that Glazer and DP Ivan Bird filtered many sequences, giving them odd tints at times (the opening, with its almost ultraviolet appearance is a good example, as is the great sequence where Don lets Gal in on the plot, which includes rapid cutting between blue and red hued scenes). Fine detail is good in close-ups. No overtly obvious compression artifacts were noticed.
Sexy Beast Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Sexy Beast follows its video protocol by offering two choices in the audio department as well, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (presumably recreating the film's original audio mix) and a nicely done DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix that capably opens up the film's fantastic music, while giving some extra oomph to the occasional foley effect (notably the great rumble of the boulder in the opening sequence). Dialogue is very cleanly presented, though the Cockney accents can be a bit thick to cut through (there are optional subtitles available, which are a major help in this regard). The source cues in the score are wonderful, running the gamut from Dean Martin singing "Sway" to Henry Mancini's gorgeously lush instrumental "Lujon", which became a well known hit for Brasil '66 as "Slow Hot Wind". Fidelity is excellent throughout both of these tracks.
Sexy Beast Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sexy Beast Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
When you have to watch as many films as I do, you become all too aware of the formulaic, cookie cutter approach so many filmmakers take with their projects. Kudos, then, to Sexy Beast for being willfully determined to contravene any number of accepted tropes as it wends it way through some fairly tricky character beats and plot machinations. This film is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, for it changes tone at the drop of a hat (and/or boulder) and is rather disturbing at times, especially as Kingsley's character devolves into a near atavistic state, but it's so breathtakingly original it's hard not to be swept up in its own peculiar form of divine madness. This Blu-ray has generally excellent video and superior audio, and comes with at least a few supplements. Recommended.
Sexy Beast: Other Editions
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