Weekend Film Recommendation: Sexy Beast

You’ve watched the scene countless times before, so much so that it’s known by a common trope: The ‘One Last Job.’ The gangster protagonist, with his career of crime behind him, has retired to a more sedate life. This new life offers a different kind of satisfaction – the banality of providing for one’s family, perhaps, or the simpler pleasures of legitimately acquired leisure. And yet, a figure from the character’s criminal past re-appears and coaxes our protagonist back for that One Last Job.

You may have seen it performed by Andy Garcia in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995), or Morgan Freeman in Unforgiven (1992), or Robert DeNiro in Heat (1995), or Daniel Craig in Layer Cake (2005). But in each of those films, the scene in which the protagonist is persuaded to return to his criminal life acts as a footnote in the larger trajectory of the film; it’s a happenstance that directors dispense with quickly to get on with the real business of the film’s plot. Not so in this week’s Movie Recommendation, Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2000).

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 22.01.12The film begins with an opening shot of Gal, played by Ray Winstone, enjoying indolent retirement in Spain with his wife and two close friends. Gal is the kind of character with which Winstone has become synonymous; he is foul-mouthed and gruff, yet still possesses that inimitable East London charm. He languishes at the poolside with his wife – herself a character with a rich backstory to tell – played by Amanda Redman.

But news arrives that an old companion from Gal’s former days is flying in from England tomorrow. Don Logan, in what remains one of Ben Kingsley’s finest performances, is the equally foul-mouthed capo of the gang to which Gal belonged. Unlike Gal, however, who has been softened by the Spanish sun, Don is a callous and mean-spirited man who does not sympathise with Gal’s desire for a quiet life. More to the point, Don has One Last Job for which he needs Gal’s help.

The rest of the film deals with Gal’s efforts to dissuade Don from bringing him back to England to do The Job. Tensions mount, and tempers flare. The remainder of the film is a thorough treatment of the complex character development that other films relying on the One Last Job conceit overlook, and it is superb. Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 21.52.38Don is vicious and unpredictable, Gal is pathetic and desperate, and the film provides a compelling portrait of a monumental battle of wills.

At various moments throughout the film the plot meanders a little. This is especially so towards the end, once it becomes clear that relatively little has actually happened. However, the ending is well worth the wait, if only to watch Ian McShane deliver his outstanding performance as the mob boss Teddy Bass.

The film is interspersed with metaphors that capture Gal’s anxieties and neuroses with varying levels of subtlety: the opening scene shows Gal’s tranquility disturbed by an unexpected boulder; the eponymous Sexy Beast plagues his dreams with nightmares relating his impending doom; and the brightly coloured Spanish scenes become gradually more etiolated as Gal begins to realise that his resolve is vastly outgunned by Don’s sheer obstinacy. Regardless, Glazer does a fine job in his first attempt at directing a feature-length film.

 

 

Trivia time, RBC. Name other films that feature the One Last Job trope. The rules: One Last Job is specifically about gangsters. Entries about heroes/law enforcement officials nearing retirement or revisiting a pre-retirement case are excluded from consideration. Therefore, films like Lethal Weapon, Blade Runner, The Incredibles, or High Noon (etc.) are out of the running.

43 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: Sexy Beast”

  1. Tremendous pick Johann. So impressive that this is the guy who played GANDHI! What range Kingsley has.

    A fine One Last Job film is The Score, starring Brando, DeNiro and Norton.

    1. Yes, “The Score”. Another film that is good overall, but drags in parts.

      I once heard that Brando was such a pest to the director of “The Score”, Frank Oz, that he once even brought in a fake doctor’s note claiming that he had an allergy to Oz. The rest of his direction during the film’s production was provided to him through an intermediary, who passed notes between Oz and Brando!

  2. Seconded on the recommendation. Ben Kingsley is so frightening it’s good 😉

    Another “One Last Job” film: “Thief” with James Caan

  3. Does The Godfather saga count as “One Last Job”? After all, “Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in!”

    1. While it isn’t popular to say so, “The Godfather, part III” is my favourite of the trilogy (gasp!), and I’m glad you nominated it. Points awarded.

        1. Yes, I know. I’ve ruined all my film reviewing credibility with many of my friends before, for this recommendation alone.

          I am well aware of the inadequacies of “Part III”. For one thing, Sofia Coppola is a blight on the screen, even if she isn’t always a blight when she’s directing. But I think it ties the themes together in a much more coherent fashion than the previous two films in the trilogy. Most people disagree.

          Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

  4. “Road to Perdition.” It was Sullivan’t “last job” in the Greek drama sense that he must have known all along that the end was inevitable.

    “Thomas Crown Affair,” which is unusual–a “last job” comedy. I suppose Thomas Crown isn’t a gangster, per se, but he’s a helluva criminal.

    The “Ocean’s nn” films. Each time, they decide they will do “one last job.” Then life gets boring, and they get together for yet again “one last job.” That franchise could go on for a LONG time.

    1. “Road to Perdition” was beautiful, and I’ll endorse just about anything Paul Newman touched. I also like the idea that he knew it all along; it certainly fits. Another one in the Newman vein is one of my former recommendations: “The Sting”.

      “Thomas Crown Affair” is unusual in another sense, too — Steve McQueen isn’t coaxed into doing his Last Job; he *can’t wait* to do it.

  5. “Sexy Beast” is a really good film, and well worth seeing. So in “The Score;” old and tired as he is, Brando commands the screen (he can barely move, but who cares?) and both DeNiro and Norton are great.

  6. Countertrivia: what unusual element does this movie share with the next year’s Donnie Darko? Better yet, name a third movie, where this element gives the movie its title.

    1. I’m not seeing the connection between death-sport films and this. I haven’t seen “Death Race 2000”, so I can’t pass comment on that. However, I can say something about the other three: in neither “Hunger Games” nor “Running Man” is the protagonist a veteran coaxed back to their life of crime for one last job; in “Rollerball”, James Caan’s character is never even out of the industry.

      I’m afraid I don’t see the connection.

      1. Sorry for being unclear. I guess I’m thread-jacking by suggesting a different trope that these four movies may have in common.

  7. Okay, I know you implied no good guy movies but what about “Gran Torino” with Clint Eastwood? It is just such a different treatment that it deserves mention.

    1. Would you mind spelling out the connection? If I recall correctly, Eastwood’s character is a war vet. The end of the film is about him having one last task to fulfill, but it isn’t related to his former life. I’m happy to be corrected on that, though.

  8. Star Wars (Episode IV): an old rebel is dragged out of retirement to join a ragtag crew of smugglers, terrorists, bystanders, and fools in their attempt to win a fight against the forces of law and order.

    This argument falls apart somewhat because Kenobi isn’t the main character. Also possible other reasons.

    1. Is that really Keyser Soze’s Last Job, though? I can’t help but think that when he steps in the car with Pete Postlethwaite, he’s off to do more dastardly deeds.

          1. Wheeeee! On a related note, I think it’s a weakness of the film that Keaton has all the formal qualities of a main character (being the “one last job” guy, plus being an actual “usual suspect”), yet the dominant character is someone about whom we know almost nothing and whose character doesn’t develop.

        1. Wait, no: he isn’t retired. He’s a working criminal. In fact, he has built around him a smooth, skilled new criminal gang with visions of using their pooled talents to unleash a crime spree across the country, and he’s in the process of doing just this when he is invited by Kobayashi to undertake one last great criminal enterprise that would let him retire. So: yes, One Last Job. But – critically – it’s a capstone to an ongoing career, not a relapse into criminality.

          1. So there’s no significance to the bad guy:
            1) sabotaging his (legitimate) business meeting?
            2) having him arrested, thus putting him in contact with the guys who actually planned the robbery of the police?
            3) being in the same jail cell to make sure they make plans together?
            4) talking him into doing the job?
            Well OK then.

          2. I haven’t seen the movie in a long time. I didn’t remember that Keaton had gone straight before being hauled into the police station, from which he emerges a working criminal (I still don’t remember this, but I believe you). But you’re concatenating: he’s not talked into doing “One Last Job” until he is again a working criminal.

          3. OK, point granted. Lured into the first 2 jobs, forced into the third one– but since all of them were at the bidding of one guy, whose only object was the third job… I think I forgot my point here.

            Anyway, the movie needed to spend more time with Keaton and Edie to establish his re-corruption as a theme. The Chazz Palmintieri “Dean Keaton is the evillest guy ever” doesn’t really work, either. Chazz just seems stupid, or at least pig-headed, in the movie. If they had made Keaton an obvious bad guy, not one trying to go straight and still protective of Edie, that would have been a much better red herring.

          4. Wait, Dean is supposed to be a bad guy? I mean, sure, he’s a criminal, but my (admittedly imperfect) memory of the film is that he’s always being noble: he’s protective of Edie, he’s protective of Kevin Spacey’s character, he doesn’t double-cross anyone on his side nor betray anyone to the cops; even his criminal plans (except perhaps the last, forced one) involve the threat of serious violence but don’t hinge on serious violence actually happening. Maybe Palmintieri’s character says he’s a coldblooded monster, but we don’t see it on the screen – and Palmintieri’s character is a mumble-mouthed nonentity. Obviously in making a film like this you have to get the audience to sympathize with imperfect or even malign people – but I just don’t recall seeing evidence (other than criminiality) that Dean is a bad person.

          5. (arguably, his bad-guy-ness is being called out of retirement for One Last Job; instead of swindles and smooth heists engineered to protect his crew, he has to wade into a bloodbath).

          6. The only real evidence for Keaton being a really bad guy is when he talks about killing one of the drug-dealers friends in prison. To wit:

            Redfoot the Fence: The way I hear it, you did time with old Spook. Good man, wasn’t he? I used to run dope for him. Too bad he got shivved.
            Keaton: Yeah… I shivved him. Better you hear it from me now than from somebody else later.
            Redfoot the Fence: I appreciate that. But just out of curiosity, was it business or personal?
            Keaton: A bit of both.

            I find that chilling.

            So, yeah, his character isn’t developed enough, we don’t care about Palmintieri or his theory, or Giancarlo Esposito or Dan Hedaya, and most of our knowledge of the plot comes from an unreliable narrator whom we are supposed to take as reliable simply because they show us a flashback. And yet I still like it.

      1. You can make the case that the backstory to the whole film is Keyser Soze’s last job: he’s settled down into a happy family life atop his smooth-running empire (admittedly his smooth-running vicious criminal empire, but let’s ignore that for the sake of convenience), when the Hungarian mob muscles in on his territory, turns his life upside down, and sets him off on a path of bloody revenge, returning him to the life of violence he’d worked his way out of. Admittedly, wiping out the Hungarian mafia over the course of years is hardly a one-off criminal scheme to cash out and retire – but he is a formerly vicious man dragged back into a great (vicious) criminal undertaking.

  9. I haven’t actually seen it (I’ve only read the Wikipedia page because it’s so constantly referenced on the BBC), but the original The Italian Job might qualify – although the lead character isn’t so much coming out of retirement as they’re coming off of an enforced vacation at her majesty’s pleasure.

  10. Out of the Past? If Jeff recovers the tax records for Whit, the ledger between them is balanced.

  11. I have pleasant memories of watching “Sexy Beast” twice one evening. First plain and second with the English translation subtitles on.

    Kingsley fans should dig up the documentary of his making a “King and I” recording. Watching him sing the same line with ever so slightly different intonations was amazing.

  12. Yes, the Italian Job original. Highly recommended also. Defines the term “cliffhanger”. The recent remake lost the point of the story completely.

  13. The Gene Hackman film *Heist* from 2001. Average script, terrific performances (Hackman’s, but also some of the supporting characters, esp. Delroy Lindo’s).

  14. Sexy Beast is an amazing movie. Thank you for recommending it.

    My trivia nominees are:

    Get Carter (1971) Directed by Mike Hodges. With Michael Caine.

    The Memory of a Killer “De zaak Alzheimer” (2003) Directed by Erik Van Looy. With Jan Decleir.

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