Sexy Beast (2000)
May 28, 2015, 9:52 am
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Sexy Beast (2000)
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Sexy Beast opens with Gal (Winstone) soaking up sun by his villa pool. A boulder rolls down the hill and misses him by an inch, landing in the water. It crushes his heart, laid out in tiles. He was an inch away from death, but it missed him. Death blew past him. An immovable object, buried at the bottom of the pool.

This is the film.

Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) is the boulder. The immovable object. Death. He is spite. He is volatile, ferocious, unflinching hate. He is a trained attack dog. Sits calm, but at any moment he will snap. You see it in his eyes. Any moment. Everyone in the room is overcome by the tension of this monster’s presence. It is in the atmosphere.

Gal is retired. He just wants to soak in the sun and drink and eat with his wife and friends. Logan represents a heist-job. The criminal world that Gal left behind. Logan travels to Spain to recruit Gal for one more job. It’s not an inspiring premise, but the film is not about the criminal world. It’s not even about the heist. It’s about Gal and Logan. Driven by the performances of these powerhouse characters and the struggle between them.

As angry and erratic as Logan is, it is with his words that he becomes true terror. He wheedles his way into the mind. He plants manipulative seeds in the roots of the brain. We get the impression that simple things in life, become conflict for Logan. He is a tornado that sweeps up the world, tosses it around and then. The boulder gives a hint to how his story ends.

Sexy Beast is not a flashy film. For a film about gangsters it is sparse of the usual violence and hangs on tense dialogue. Glazer has filled the screen with subtle absurdities that are true of his style. They either bark forth from Kingsley’s mouth or wisp in on a dream sequence. The film is tight and concise and Winstone and Kingsley pull it off.

Under the Skin (2013)
May 21, 2015, 10:29 am
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Under the Skin (2013)
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

It’s finally time to talk about Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. A science-fiction road trip through Scotland. Told from the perspective of an alien in the skin of a human woman. Laura is a predator, driving a white van around the streets of Scotland. She seduces men by showing only the vaguest interest in them. In return they follow her into a dark nightmare.

Science-fiction. But Under the Skin is a film about real people.

It all hinges first on the girl. Laura. Scarlett Johansson. A Hollywood face in disguise, dropped into the realms of Scottish civilisation. Filmed with hidden cameras. Interacting with real people. True reactions.

Even the opening sequence reflects the dual nature of the film. In the context of the story, we hear Laura practicing her dialogue. She makes vowel sounds and practices the way words form in her mouth. But this is actually a recording of Johansson practicing her dialect for the role. It’s a clever idea, reflecting the nature of the film as a form of method acting.

The first half of the film is sparse of exposition. We follow Laura on her road trip, in her interactions, ensnaring men. She lures them back to a derelict house. Inside is only a dark abyss; a haunting abstract plane. The men descend into this darkness. Willing to do so as they are so captivated by this siren. And something invisible in the darkness pulls the meat from under their skin. Leaving only a hollow shell behind.

The film indulges itself in letting this half of the film play out in slow pace. It is slow because we have to witness the length of time that Laura allows humanity to impact upon her. She is not human. This is never more clear than a particular beach scene. It is a gut-wrenching emotional play that she witnesses, and is completely indifferent to. But over time, the effects of humanity do seep in under the skin. There is no galvanising moment of realisation. It is a slow process.

Yet there is a galvanising moment that shifts the focus of the film. We find a narrative in the second half. As Laura finds a twinkling of humanity, the perspective turns. She experiences the world not from the perspective of a predator, but as the prey. She finds herself in an unfamiliar abyss (a deep forest). She experiences the dark, predatory nature of the human in the film’s climax.

Under the Skin is bold. It is clever. It is beautiful. It provokes thought. It pulls the viewer out of their comfort zone. Jonathan Glazer has made a film that realises his cinematic vision. A guerrilla documentary on the nature of people. The cinematography and soundtrack are haunting. And Scarlett Johansson is ethereal as Laura.


A personal note: While watching the film I was unsure. It took time to fall into it. But when the closing credits rolled, my mouth was agape and I sat for a while in the dark just to catch my breath. The more I think about and talk about this film, the more it becomes one of my favourites. It’s hard to put these kinds of emotions into a review without it becoming too masturbatory. But I wanted to add this short note to say this film had quite a profound effect on me.