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Sexy beast

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

There's more to life than sex, food and sun (whether you like it or not).

Sometimes it's hard to say no.

Gary "Gal" Dove (Ray Winstone) is enjoying life. He's fashioned his own lazy man's hacienda somewhere in the delicious heat of Spain and there with his adoring and sexy wife Deedee (Amanda Redman), his loyal pool-boy Enrique (Álvaro Monje) and his long time friends Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Juilanne White), he's living out his days in lovely suntanned, caloric glee. It's a blissful, simple existence that he and Deedee have worked and properly suffered for. That's why Aitch's news of the arrival of Don "Malky" Logan (Ben Kingsley), a man clearly from their long buried pasts, is met with such dread. He wants something from Gal, but no one is sure what.

Also starring Ian McShane as Teddy Bass, James Fox as Harry, Darkie Smith as Stan Higgins and Gérard Barray. Written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, directed by Jonothan Glazer.

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Guilt.

Brain violence.

Testosterone.

Ben wins this film hands down with his awesome performance as the highly strung gangster from hell. He is wound so tight that his body thrums with potential danger. There is not a second when he is not ready to inflict violence on someone or something. He makes guns, hitting and shooting seem like toys for pansy boys who are too scared to play the game like a real man. He does your head in just by being on the screen.

Ray comes in a close second as the gone-to-fat bovva boy who just wants a nice time in his nice home. Having been inundated with films starring Ray as the hard-arsed bastard it's a relief to see him doing something at the other end of the spectrum and doing it so well. Amanda is a clear third and everything a gangster's moll should be, a whore in the bedroom and a Madonna in the living room. She carries every hard fought and won year of her life in the weight on her shoulders and the weariness in her eyes.

The story of Sexy beast is less about a criminals' reunion than it is about the impact of former friends on your new life, your dark past coming back to haunt you. In that respect it's a really solid drama with real unpleasantness all round. Gal's inevitable return to the seamier side of life becomes a lesson in nightmare, where every breath could be his last and every step only leads him deeper into danger. The contrast between Spain's bright sunlight and England's wet nights heightens the dilemma even more.

Think of Sexy beast as a middle-aged Lock, stock and two smoking barrels, right down to too much food in the fridge, a wine collection in the cupboard and more mind games than you can poke a stick at.

Media intelligence (DVD)

  • Audio and languages: Dolby digital 5.1 - English
  • Disc: Single layer, single side
  • Picture: Widescreen 16:9
  • Subtitles: English captions

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (High level coarse language, medium level violence)

Surveillance time

88 minutes (1:28 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 23 August 2001
DVD rental: 27 February 2002
VHS rental: 27 February 2002

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Production notes
Jonathan met writers Louis and David on a project which subsequently fell through. Says Glazer, "We decided to continue to collaborate as we had similar sensibilities about films and what we felt was missing in the business today. They gave me projects which they had originally written as stage plays. Sexy beast appealed to me because it has a very simple plot dynamic, but is very powerful and visceral, almost operatic in style. I could share their love of these characters. They also take a lot of risks in their work, because they are not slaves to structure, and I think great stuff can come from that." One of the attractions to Glazer, whose recent experience in commercials and music promos has honed his visual skills, was to work on a piece driven by character. "I was more interested in working in an area which I was weak in, and to collaborate with the writers. Their stage directions are so specific, and illustrate the particular way they see the world they are writing about, so that I could use them as maps." Glazer admits that Sexy beast is hard to categorise but describes it as a very simple story about the redemptive power of love. It is set in the world of London gangsters. Says Glazer "the gangster genre creates its own autonomous society, operating on loyalties and extremes - Shakespearean in a way."

Producer Jeremy Thomas, who has brought to the screen the work of some of the most exciting directors of international cinema including Bernardo Bertolucci, Nicolas Roeg and David Cronenberg, always keeps an eye out for new talent. "I had been aware of Jonathan Glazer's work as a director for some time and was pleased to be approached when he was ready to make his first feature film," says Thomas. "This is the first time in many years that I have been so excited by a script and a first-time director." Thomas had seen Glazer's ads and pop promos and is convinced that Glazer will be a major figure on the stage of world cinema in years to come. "I recognised that Jonathan has an original voice and a strong visual sense which will translate to feature film," says the producer. Glazer had originally trained for and worked in theatre, and having seen his work directing ads which have such strong narrative frames, Thomas had no qualms about the director being able to sustain his story-telling with original visual flair.

Thomas also applauds the script by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, as a fresh and original work. "It's in the gangster movie genre but with an original twist. Here in Britain we have a tradition of gangster movies, with such beacons as Get Carter and Performance, both of which gave the audience something they hadn't seen before, as this does. It's overwhelmingly a love story, set in the gangster world, but with a different vernacular and different approach. Mellis and Scinto are talented writers, whose plot and dialogue are totally innovative."

Adds Glazer, "Jeremy has an extraordinary pedigree, and has eclectic tastes, so he was happy that we wanted to create a film which, although British, has a European flavour and wide appeal."

For Spanish co-producer and line producer Denise O'Dell, the script threw up one big location problem - finding a villa on a hillside where a boulder would be likely to roll down the hill and damage a swimming pool. The script is set on the Costa del Sol, the traditional early retirement home of choice for those britons who may have made their cash in less conventional ways, and so the production team searched the coast at Marbella, Malaga and as far north as Cadiz. Finding nothing because, as O'Dell points out, most people wouldn't build a villa in such a dangerous position, she began looking around Almeria. O'Dell knows the area well, having over 30 years experience living and shooting in Spain, and points out that David lean was the first film-maker to use the area, in Lawrence of Arabia. This was followed by the spaghetti western makers. O'Dell herself was involved filming scenes from Indiana Jones and the last crusade in the rugged landscape. "It's the wildest in Spain, and lends itself to being shot as a desert location, some of which we have used for Gal's dreamscapes." The production team eventually found Gal's villa, an architect's home, perched high above the perfect beach cove in the tiny village of Agua Amarga, some 30 miles east of Almeria. Says O'Dell, "perhaps only an architect would build on the site of an old coal mine, on the side of a hill where there is a very real possibility of rocks tumbling down a hillside onto his property."

Cast and crew were accommodated in the village which, out of the summer season, has a population of only 300 people. Producer Jeremy Thomas says, "When you are working on location you are at the mercy of certain outside forces, like the weather, and filming becomes a very intense experience. Also, by giving up some degree of control, you are leaving a door open and very often something unexpected enters the equation, enhancing the final film."

Jonathan Glazer wanted the locations for the Dove's surroundings to be as anonymous and simple as possible. "For the first two-thirds of the film we don't show the landscape for the sake of it. It's all about how the characters react to each other. It's also a bleached place that Don Logan would hate and want to smash to bits."

Commenting on the title Sexy beast, Glazer says, "If I'm asked the question 'Who is the Sexy beast?', the answer is really - all the characters; all of their mistakes are sexually driven. It's a cradle for the whole film - it's also impressionistic and a bit brazen."

Explaining the difference between making commercials, music promos and feature films, Jonathan Glazer recognises that he jumped in at the deep end. "In a pop promo, for instance, you already have the cast - the band- and the script - the song- and the director's job is to illustrate this as best he can. The sheer momentum of making a film, the marathon involved, is a lesson. There's value in each discipline."

"My aim is to make a film that people want to see, not just something to show in an art-house to seven of my friends. In Britain we are so reserved in our tastes. We can only approach passion in films from a distance. I want to get back to a cinema that I admire. The cinema of the great passionate filmmakers who give you a whole new dreamscape."

The casting of Sexy beast

When the casting process began, Jonathan Glazer knew that he wanted Ray Winstone to play the lead role of Gal, the criminal who has found his own paradise in Spain. "Even though Ray's character is a criminal, I wanted him to play against type, to strip away his macho side and show the vulnerability of Gal," says Glazer.

Ray Winstone had no doubt about accepting the role in Sexy beast. "It's one of the few scripts I've read where you shouldn't change a single word. Usually, I'm known as Ray "Paraphrase" Winstone, but with this dialogue the language is so particular, that, like Shakespeare, if you alter it, the whole scene can play differently, going off in the wrong direction. The writers have caught the poetry of a certain kind of London language." Winstone describes his character Gal dove as a good guy, but with weaknesses. "In playing a role, I like to find the good in the bad guy, and the weakness in the good guy. That's what is interesting for an audience, and for me. There are moments in the story when Gal should be sorting things out but he goes the wrong way about it." Living in East London, the actor has met people like those portrayed in the script. "Gal loves his wife, and won't risk getting caught again because they would be separated. I've known guys who have given up dodgy work because they realise they don't want to spend years inside, away from the family."

Working with Jonathan Glazer, Winstone praises the director's talent. "He knows how he wants to shoot the scene, but will let you rehearse it the way you want to do it, then somehow manoeuvres the actors to work with the camera where he wants it to be. He has the gift of being able to communicate his vision to the actors, which not all directors can manage."

To Winstone, Sexy beast is a film with three distinctive moods. "Part one, where Gal is at home in Spain, is bright and happy, like an Elvis movie on the surface, but with skeletons in the cupboard, lurking in Gal's subconscious. Part two, after Don appears, is almost a horror movie, then part three moves into the territory of a sixties London gangster movie, where a dark job is taking place. The film has a pace and a wide screen Hollywood look to it, like the movies you saw when you were young." Playing the romantic hero is an unaccustomed pleasure for the actor. "Usually," admits Winstone, "I get to punch the geezer, not kiss the girl."

Producer Jeremy Thomas says, "Ray's great talent is to take a character from the same geographical background as himself, and delineate between Ray the man, and Gal the character. That's why an audience finds him so convincing and compelling, because he alone knows where that line is drawn."

To cast the role of Don Logan, Gal's nemesis, Glazer considered a lot of British actors. "I knew we needed a great actor, to pitch against ray as Gal. Ben Kingsley is acclaimed internationally for his work, but has never been associated with any 'Brit-pop cinema gang', and as soon as I met him, I knew he was the perfect choice," explains the director. "Working with Ben is like driving a Rolls Royce. He doesn't shrink from his responsibilities but he realises that you have to throw most of it away, and resist the temptation to try to make the scenes dramatic. The combination of ray's more method approach and Ben's classical training works on screen."

Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley compares his work as an actor to that of a portrait painter. "I approach my work in a clear and practical way, and accept a role if I am curious about the man, and want to know more and want to tell his story," says Kingsley. "Don Logan intrigued me. I liked his purity, his singularity in being welded to his mission to put together a team for a big heist." Kingsley sees Logan as a man on a professional assignment who could equally easily be working for the police or the SAS, pointing out that successful police officers and successful criminals have one thing in common - both have very good imaginations. As an actor, says Kingsley, " It is important to stick to one agenda, presenting your character without judging or moralising. That's something the audience must be allowed to do. And the task of the director is to assemble these pure colours into a picture on screen that makes the eyes dance."

Kingsley praises Jonathan Glazer's talent: "Jonathan has the strength and clarity of overall vision to keep the characters on their own narrow tightrope. He has a boundless curiosity to explore the human condition." Kingsley was attracted to the writing of the script: "It is unique in structure, relying, like Beckett and Pinter, on the rhythm of words, with each main character having a totally different rhythm. The level of mythology is so dense and explosive that it sets the script apart."

Almost from the first draft, the production had envisaged Ian McShane in the pivotal role of Teddy Bass. Says Glazer, "The spine of the film is the trinity of Gal and Don, in opposite corners, with Teddy Bass in the middle." Teddy Bass is the dark charismatic centre of the film, the immaculate leader from whom all power emanates. Watching lovejoy, McShane's hugely successful television series in which he plays the title role, a loveable rogue antique dealer, Glazer's enjoyment came from McShane's performance. "Ian was so obviously playing against the story, which gave the show an edge." Glazer feels that British cinema has overlooked McShane in recent years, because of his television success. The actor points out that in his first film role, The wild and the willing, he was directed by Ralph Thomas, father of producer Jeremy Thomas, and that he made two British gangster movies in the 70s - Sitting target with Oliver Reed, and Villains with Richard Burton.

"Simply one of the best pieces of writing I have read in years. It's poetic writing, with a plot that is exciting, so it's not an art movie," is how actress Amanda Redman, playing Deedee (Gal's adoring, and adored, wife) describes the script. To Redman the script is a beautiful love story, that happens to be set in the world of gangsters. For her, everything that happens is as a result of Gal and Deedee, and their friends Jackie and Aitch, trying to protect their love. "It's a fairy story - good versus evil. This couple, who each have a past that the other knows all about, have set each other free. Their love is unconditional, and they don't have children, so everything is channelled into the relationship. Then Don, the outsider, the psychopath arrives and everything changes; but they are prepared to kill for each other." Redman relishes the chance to play a strong woman, particularly in such a male-dominated genre, and a woman who is the equal of her man.

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