THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Sexy Beast begins with a perfectly metaphorical opening scene. Gal (Ray Winstone), a former criminal gone straight, relaxes poolside at his Spanish hacienda. A large boulder rolls down the hill behind the house. It flies over the fence, narrowly missing Gal, and crashes into the pool, sending a spray of water everywhere. It's a near-collision with an unstoppable object. Little does Gal know that he will encounter something similar again soon.

Having gone straight, he is content to spend his days by the pool with his former porn-star wife Deedee (Amanda Redman). Life is full of sunny days and dinner invitations rather than planning the latest criminal activity. At one of those dinner invitations, a family friend asks Gal a simple question: "Are you still available?" He assures the woman that he is retired. She repeats the question. Again, he insists that he is no longer active in the criminal underworld. Curiosity being what it is, Gal then asks the woman why she wants to know. She's not asking for herself, she tells him; Don Logan wants to know. The table falls into a stunned silence at the mere mention of the name. And those of us in the audience are wondering: who is Don Logan and why is everyone afraid of him?

Ben Kingsley won't take no for an answer in the thriller Sexy Beast
Logan (Ben Kingsley) is a criminal mastermind and a loose cannon of epic proportions. He shows up at Gal's home with assurances of an easy plan to break into a high-tech bank vault and steal millions in valuables. The rest of the team is ready; all he needs now is for Gal to come on board. The retired crook declines, but Don Logan does not go away. His tenacity is such that when Gal says he is happy in his new life, Logan replies: "I'm not going to let you be happy. Why should I?" At first, Logan plays on vanity, criticizing Gal's sun-worshipping ways and newfound pride in his physical appearance. You've gone soft, he tells the man. When that doesn't work, he attacks Gal and Deedee in bed. This is not a man who will take "no" for an answer. It becomes clear that Logan will not go away until Gal relents. And that is a disturbing prospect.

In one of the Godfather movies, Al Pacino famously said: "Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in." That concept is given new meaning in Sexy Beast. The heist really isn't all that central to the plot (although we do see it). Instead, this is a movie about control. Don Logan is a master control freak. When he doesn't get his way, he works himself into a rage, then blows up at the person he wants to control. (The film introduces a classic line of persuasive dialogue when Gal dares to tell Logan no: "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!") There's almost a kind of desperation to his behavior, as if not getting his own way will be both a professional calamity and a personal affront.

Ben Kingsley is one of the most talented actors working today. This film is proof. He is not a physically intimidating man. He is short, bald, not particularly muscular. But as Don Logan, he is absolutely terrifying. What the character lacks in physicality, he more than makes up for in confrontational style. Kingsley does a remarkable job showing us just how "off his rocker" this guy is. Rather than giving us a Hollywood-style portrayal of flamboyant evil, the actor creates a psychological sense of menace. Don Logan is truly unhinged.

Ray Winstone is also very good. I was unfamiliar with him before this film, but he's well cast in this role. I like the way Winstone shows you the character's defenses wearing down. Gal knows Logan isn't going to go away. He also knows that the longer he holds out, the more vicious Logan's wrath will be. All the guy wants is to work on his tan and spend quality time with his wife. Now he is faced with a lunatic who is going to get his own way at any cost - a cost Gal is going to end up paying.

It's not fair to indicate the direction the screenplay takes, but Sexy Beast is a different kind of movie. The emphasis is on the dynamic between the retired criminal who resists the temptation to return to a life of crime and the controlling mastermind who steadfastly refuses to let anyone think for themselves. In that way, this is one of the most powerful and compelling crime thrillers to be released in a long time. When it's over, you'll thank your lucky stars that you don't know anyone as thoroughly demented as Don Logan.

( 1/2 out of four)

Sexy Beast is rated R for pervasive language, strong violence and some sexuality. . The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.
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