Jonathan Glazer’s debut film, Sexy Beast, is a stylish cliche of the British crime drama trope that largely gets its vibrancy from a couple of spellbinding performances. Starring Ray Winstone as an over-the-hill ex-con and safecracker, Sexy Beast checks about a dozen boxes that you expect it to check, only surprising the audience with the occasional moment of surrealism.
The highlights of Sexy Beast, to me, were Ian McShane and the Academy Award nominated performance by Ben Kingsley. McShane here plays a mob boss, and is able to communicate so much menace with so little; there’s no mistaking who this character is from the most subtle of movements. On the other hand, Kingsley goes way over-the-top here, having a great time with an against-type role that feels gleefully sociopathic.
Glazer as a director here has some interesting directorial flourishes, including the most terrifying appearance by a human in a rabbit costume until Donnie Darko the next year; however, when all was said and done with this film, I ultimately found myself reflecting on it largely in comparison to an SNL parody from a few years back that definitively nailed the coffin for this subgenre of British crime-action thriller.
Still, this is an enjoyably well-made film; even as it falls squarely within the confines of the tropes that define this subgenre, it is an above-average execution. Probably not a film worth revisiting unless as part of a larger revisit of the Jonathan Glazer filmography (Under the Skin is spellbinding, to be sure); but for a first look, worth the time.