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May 07 2019

The New Classics - Sexy Beast

Michael Cusumanohere to revisit one of the most indelible performances of 2001 for our new series "The New Classics"...

Scene: Don Logan converses with his reflection

How many viewings of Jonathan Glazer'sSexy Beastdoes it take before you realize Don Logan is the most sympathetic character in the movie?

Don shows up in Spain with two missions: to reconnect with his old friend Gal,and to see if he has a shot with his lost love,Jackie.And what does he find?Not only does his friend attempt to blow him off,but the object of his affection is married to some spineless twit and can't stand so much as to look at him.My heart goes out to the guy...

Okay,yes,Don invites this treatment by being a juggernaut of psychotic rage,but I can't blame him for that any more than I can blame the alien at the center of Glazer'sUnder the Skinfor its failure to grasp human behavior.They can't help their nature.

Viewers can be forgiven for missing the neediness at the heart of Don Logan on first viewing.There have been a lot of hard men in crime films over the years,but Kingsley's performance is singular,bordering on surreal.Paragraphs tumble out of Don in single breaths like absurdist,stream-of-consciousness poetry.After the first few scenes,viewers may wonder if Don has an interior life at all,what with the way every profane thought spews immediately to the surface.

That's when we get the mirror scene.

One year before Gollum famously debated his own inner demon,Don Logan conversed with his own reflection and gave viewers a brief window into his inner workings.The scene joins Don in the bathroom,awake before the rest of the house (Does Don sleep?It's hard to picture).Don pees - making sure to splash some of his urine onto the floor,an act of childish aggression - and then while shaving he begins to converse with his image in the mirror.

I say "begins" to converse but really we hear a back and forth already in progress,a dialogue which must run unceasingly in Logan's mind.We note that Don is capable of patience and understanding,at least with himself,assuring his image that it's safe to open up.We also find Don,who up until now has displayed a terrifying single-mindedness,second guesses himself,chastising his reflection for opening up to Gal about his feelings for Jackie.

When he expressed those feelings about Jackie in the previous scene it was tough to tell if we should take him seriously.Now we find his affection is sincere and he berates himself for revealing this small weakness,or as Don puts it

"Still giving too much of yourself away,mate.Fucking mouth.Best keep schtum.Shtum.Shtum.Shtum.Big mouth,fucking big mouth Don.Don.Don."

The scene is broken up by a cutaway to Don watching Gal sleep through the crack in the door,as if lying in bed with one's wife is the most suspicious behavior imaginable."Taking the piss out of you,are they?Liberties?"he asks,his feelings of vulnerability flash boiling into paranoid fantasies and filling his rage tanks with fuel.Like any schoolyard bully Don is terrified of embarrassment and lashes out when he feels exposed.His is a childish temper tantrum inflated to satanic levels.

"I'll sort him out.That's not a problem.Can't have that..."

Don says by way of offering to do himself a favor and puts a period on the scene by barging into Gal's bedroom and waking his friend with a foot to the face.

Released in the Summer of 2001Sexy Beastwas generally received as genre riff,albeit an original and stylish one.It makes sense for a time when cinemas were clogged with Tarantino knockoffs and Guy Ritchie was rolling out colorful crooks at a steady clip.Seen nearly two decades later,it is quickly apparent how muchSexy Beaststands apart from that trend.Not another quirky crime film but something deeper,more mythic.Instead of the usual caper beats we get a bizarrely structured character study,the centerpiece of which involves Gal refusing over and over,for one third of a ninety-minute film,to participate in the job,and Don refusing to take no for an answer.It should become unbearably repetitive,but it doesn't because we have the mystery of this bizarre man to occupy our attention.

All three of Glazer's films show characters struggling outside the normal scope of human experience.InBirthit's reincarnation.InUnder the Skinit's a literal alien.WithSexy Beastit's a man who desperately wants loves but is fantastically ill-equipped to request or receive it.You would be angry all the time,too.

Previously on the New Classics:
• David Cronenberg stakes a claim to one of theall-time great fight scenes
• Tilda Swinton collapses inone of the greatest comeuppances

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Reader Comments (9)

I remember this coming out and the UK press were quite unkind to it and Kingsley but Michael you point out it's so different from the pack,Don is like a blur at the start but comes into focus as the film progresses,we get to know more about him through McShane's performance,Don is also very funny,the bit on the plane,a classic British film.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

That performance from Ben Kingsley is scary as fuck.Put him inside a cage with Anton Chigurh,the Joker fromThe Dark Knight,Thanos,Col.Hans Landa,and any other great villain.He'd might be one of the few that might survive.

"I fucked Jackie.Cow.She put her finger up my bum."

The things he says in that film would make SJWs,PC Principals,and many others shit themselves.The idea of him saying racist,homophobic,sexist,or anything offensive is just child's play for him.It's what he would say and how is even more frightening.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99


"You see,if I cared Gal.If I fucking cared.If I gave a solitary fuck about Don..."

A devastating line that totally reframes our view of everything we've seen.It underlines that the heist is a sideshow to the main event,which is a character study of Don.

Also,I didn't have space to get into it but damn McShane is brilliant here.Understandable why he's overshadowed by Kingsley,but in any other film McShane would be MVP.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C

Michael: A great write-up.Your point about does he have an interior life is a beautiful observation.

I love this film and all the actors are doing such great work.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I love that line,they sold Don out.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

What a great series this is.Each scene chosen so far is yes,omg,that was an incredible scene.

I loved this movie.Ben Kingsley was so scary.I felt sorry for poor Ray Winstone's character,so obviously going to have to do what Don Logan wants.

For a long time,I had trouble remembering which actor was which,of Ray Winstone,Brendan Gleeson,and Brian Cox.Now it's more clear to me: Cox is the raddled ambivalent one;Winstone is the smooth one;Gleeson is the funny melancholic one and my favorite.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Does any1 think he should have won the Oscar.

May 8,2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

markgordonuk: Haven't seen the movie,so unsure if I'd bump him up to lead (though this article makes it seem like I might),but "Ben Kingsley as a two Oscar career"...?Yeah.Not offended at that idea.

May 8,2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Mark - Absolutely.My favorite nominated performance of 2001 in any category (apologies to Ms.Kidman and Dame Helen)

May 9,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

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