There's no big central twist or anything like that, it's just so well executed and such a slightly shifted portrayal of an otherwise played-out genre that it feels like it could go anywhere, so finding out where it does go is a real treat if you don't know ahead of time. There were several points where I thought it was going to be a heist movie about a heist that never happens. (Is it a spoiler that this isn't a heist movie without a heist in it? This is what I'm talking about.) This sounds like a cliche from back in the Siskel & Ebert days, but it really kept me guessing what was going to happen next.
Before I get into it, however, I do want to talk about Ben Kingsley's performance. There's a lot I like about it: it starts out very quiet and measured, and you can tell there's a maelstrom brewing just beneath the surface. He gives quick, curt, almost rudely brief responses to the other characters' questions, and he does it in such a precise way that you can see everything that he's holding back. But I also really don't like when he finally explodes. To me it just sounds like loud and sweary for loud and sweary's sake. He's more intimidating when he's quiet, and his loud outbursts signal an underlying impotence which is never developed.
What I really loved about Sexy Beast, however, is rooted in its writing and editing. (Potential minor, vague spoilers? Wait, what are you still doing here? I told you to go watch the movie!) It does something which plenty of mysteries try to do, but few achieve on the same level. The movie will show us a scene, then after several minutes it will return to a crucial little detail that it left out previously. Like I said, a lot of mysteries do stuff like this; what makes Sexy Beast unique is how it does it. It uses the empty narrative space which is created when you cut on action. It takes advantage of the form of the cinematic medium.
I'll definitely have to see this one again to be able to say for sure if it's truly the great movie I found it to be this time through. I was so intrigued by the novelty of the film's style and its reinvention of certain stale genre tropes that I didn't spend a lot of time reading into the characters. But while I can't quite say for certain yet, this is definitely a film that left a mark on me and one which I'm sure I'll be thinking about the next time I watch a new crime movie.
Best of 60–90min Features | Heists
Paste's 100 Best Noirs