Tuesday, October 07, 2008
It takes an ocean of stallions to shave our back
Loaded magazine was launched in 1994 at the forefront of the ‘lads mag’ movement of boorish lad culture for the 90s, which turned on the touchy-feely influence on masculinity that had arisen in the 80s.
The lads mags were basically Playboy with less nudity, articles about things Blokes would/should be interested in such as booze, sport, gambling and real life gangsters such as con-turned-celebrity Dave Courtney, all punctuated with photo shoots of models or soap actresses.
In 1998, guy Ritchie capitalized on the geezer zeitgeist with the release of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a knockabout gangster film which mixed a cockney-fantasy view of the London underworld with a dash of Tarantino and another beneficiary of lad culture, Vinnie Jones, the ‘hard man’ of football. The film’s success spawned a plethora of copycats with Rancid Aluminium, Going Off Big Time and Love, Honour & Obey amongst the drek that followed two years later. Thankfully there are few genres in cinema which don’t yield the occasional gem and the brit gangster scene was no exception, offering up the goods with films like The Limey and Gangster No. 1, helping to stop Britain from seeming like nothing but a den of wankers.
Sexy Beast, however, is in a league of its own.
The debut feature by acclaimed music video director Jonathan Glazer (with promos for Radiohead and Massive Attack under his belt), Sexy Beast ticks all the generic boxes at first glance.
Starring uber cockney Ray Winstone alongside UK TV actress Amanda Redman as his wife, and featuring a pre-Deadwood Ian McShane who was best known as the rogueish antique dealer, Lovejoy, the film is the story of a London thief retired in Spain who is called on to do one last job.
Thankfully Glazer is a fantastic director and in Sexy Beast delivered a film that was fresh and cinematic and yet also heavily character-driven. The stylistic touches that Glazer developed for his advert and promo work are evident throughout the film, with fantastic sequences involving camera placement as we follow the point of view of a boulder tumbling down a hill, the revolving door of a bank and a car door opened and then slammed shut; a scene where the focus on Winstone’s face remains constant whilst the rest of the frame shakes violently behind him (a similar technique to that used in Fight Club with Pitt as Durden telling you that “you are not your fucking khakis”); a dream sequence involving a demonic rabbit man. What is so thrilling about the film is that every one of Glazer’s touches of bravura serves the characters and the story, rather than being flash for the sake of it.
The film revolves around the unwelcome return of the criminal past that Winstone’s Gal thought he had left behind. Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan is the vehicle for change, and it is a credit to both actors that they manage to convey that the usually imposing Winstone is terrified of the wiry Kingsley, totally convincing as a driven psychotic whose violence is mostly mental despite his taut and menacing physical presence. While much of the praise around the film was bestowed upon Kingsley for a role that was largely against type, Winstone gives a fantastic performance, conveying the love for his wife, the frustration at being unable to disentangle himself from his shady past, and his repressed panic at the thought of discovery by McShane’s Mr. Big, Teddy Bass, later in the film. It’s a shame that he is usually cast as the menacing lug (although Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth offered a more challenging version of that role) as it is clear that Winstone is a fantastic actor.
Sexy Beast deserves not only a place among the best British crime films such as the Long Good Friday, Get Carter and Brighton Rock, but deserves recognition as a classic British film which snuck into the geezer movie explosion a film about a man who just wants a quiet life with his beloved wife and his friends.