Poolside angst

Gangster Brits with a firm grip on each other’s throats.

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Lean, mean and crackling with tension, Sexy Beast strips the British gangster film to its bare-bones, bare-knuckle basics. In a terse 91 minutes, director Jonathan Glazer and screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto (Gangster No. 1) explore the psyche of professional criminals through one doughy retiree, Gary “Gal” Dove (Ray Winstone), whose primary activity when the film opens is sunbathing at his modest but modish villa in the Spanish countryside.

In a freak accident, his lovely swimming pool (which appears to be straight out of a David Hockney painting) is damaged when a boulder rolls down from the hillside, barely missing Gal in the process. But this violation of the idyllic, carefree existence he enjoys with wife Deedee (Amanda Redman) is nothing compared to what follows. The immensely menacing Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) has come from London to recruit Gal for a “sure thing” heist job and won’t take no for an answer.

Kingsley is nothing short of magnificent in this role, a pit bull who barks out his lines with ferocious menace, and whose eyes always appear to be seeking out the weakest spot in the armor of anyone unlucky enough to be in his gaze. Winstone literally cowers when he’s in the presence of his nemesis, and it says a great deal about the alpha dog mentality of their game. Taking the taut genre conventions epitomized in Get Carter (1970) one step further, the film introduces an even more chilling figure, crime boss Teddy Bass (portrayed with icy perfection by Ian McShane), whose cool machinations don’t preclude getting waist-deep in the muck himself.

Sexy Beast (the title is never explained, but may refer to the creature who haunts Gal’s dreams) isn’t so much a caper film as a character piece, one that’s not afraid to get up close and personal. Confronted by the implacable Teddy, Gal quietly tells him, “I’m not into this anymore.” He says it with a strange mixture of defeat and triumph, revealing that while he may have gone soft, he’s acquired a heart in the process. Gal considers it a fair trade-off.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

Click here to visit the official Sexy Beast Web site.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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