The time has come again to celebrate our favourite cinema baddies in this blogathon, which is hosted, as always, by Silver Screenings, Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy. Two years ago, I participated by talking about Robert Mitchum’s very memorable performance in Night of the Hunter but this year, we’re going to be looking at a film from the right at the start of the 21st century and another memorable villain of British cinema. And unlike Rev. Powell, who was deceptively charming and got unknowing townspeople to like him, this year’s villain is someone who his fellow characters really hate, someone actively nasty, cruel and aggressive.
Film spoilers and VERY strong language follow.
“What you think this is the wheel of fortune? You think you can make your dough and fuck off? Leave the table? Thanks Don, see you Don, off to sunny Spain now Don, fuck off Don. Lying in your pool like a fat blob laughing at me, you think I’m gonna have that? You really think I’m gonna have that, ya ponce. All right, I’ll make it easy for you. God knows you’re fucking trying. Are you gonna do the job? It’s not a difficult question, are you gonna do the job, yes or no?“
Directed by Jonathan Grazer (who later went on to direct the most unique Under the Skin), Sexy Beast stars Ray Winstone as Gary “Gal” Dove, a former London safecracker who has since retired and moved to an idyllic life in sunny Spain alongside the love of his life, his wife Dee-Dee (Amanda Redman). Though perfectly content with his life, he is soon given news by friends and associates Aitch and Jackie that an old acquaintance has been in touch with them, someone who seeks to recruit Gal for a big upcoming job, masterminded by criminal boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), and who will be landing in Spain the next day. This man is Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), a tough, menacing, vulgar, blunt, angry and unfeeling brute, who goes on to create discomfort and fear among the small group of friends as he really doesn’t seem to want to take no for an answer.
Earning an Oscar nomination for his performance and stepping as far away from the role of Gandhi as you could possibly get, Ben Kingsley really is remarkable as crass gangster Don Logan and it is surely one of his more memorable, impactful and noteworthy performances in a film that has perhaps been forgotten about over time. His character’s impact on the film begins before he even appears on screen when, over a previously pleasant dinner outing, it is announced that he has called and will be arriving the next day; as soon as his name is mentioned, the four characters noticeably react and the atmosphere turns tense and their faces fall as they all know that he’s bad news and will cause chaos in their lives. This is a good start for any movie villain – we hear of them beforehand and instantly realise that bad stuff is about to down when they arrive – and with Don Logan, we see the characters are worried about the thought of interacting with him and without even being there, rifts appear in the relationships between Gal and Dee-Dee & Aitch and Jackie.
And then he comes into the picture when he’s picked up from the airport by Aitch and Jackie; starting with a shot of his distinctive shaved head from the back and introducing him with some pumping techno music, Don has a cold, expressionless face and slowly observes everything around him, casually seeing all around him with the glare of a Terminator, and when he arrives at the villa, his very first line is a clearly enunciated and blunt “I gotta change my shirt, it’s sticking to me. I’m sweating like a c**t“, letting us know just what kind of nasty character that we’re about to watch.
For the first portion of his role, Don initially appears deceptively calm as he doesn’t initiate conversation (when he does, it’s quick and sharp responses that are biting, blunt, rude and to-the-point) and he very often simply sits perfectly still, like a statue with an unemotional visage, leaving Aitch to make very awkward small talk and blubber on in an attempt to break the silence. He starts off by occasionally repeating what other characters say and doesn’t actually swear that often in his early scenes, even pointing out that he’s not swearing. He even shows slight compassion towards Jackie as the only time he warmly smiles is when he talks to her (though she clearly hates him) and it’s made clear that he loves her (or thinks he does, anyway); it’s suggested that she was the real reason for Don coming to Spain and when Gal confronts Don with this very sensitive subject, this clearly infuriates Don.
And when Gal repeatedly rejects Don’s nudging into doing the big job, the cracks do begin to show as the deceptively calm veneer gradually fades and the truer, nastier side of his personality emerges; he openly insults the people around him (especially Gal), he throws F and C bombs around like confetti, purposefully urinates on the villa floor, talks to himself in the mirror as he shaves, attacks Gal when he’s sleeping, and goes on a couple of very shouty and sweary rants, later on unapologetically smoking on a return flight and threatening the plane passengers, though he slyly gets out of trouble by spinning a convincing yarn about being sexually abused by the air stewards. This all culminates in a final confrontation at the villa where Don reaches peak shoutiness and sweariness as he rattles off a frustrated string of quickly paced insults and curses so things inevitably go south and the four friends eventually band together to kill him, going on to bury his body under the tiles of the pool where, in a macabre manner, we see that his indomitable “spirit” remains down there, continuing to smoke and not giving a f**k when he’s visited by the demon of Gal’s dreams.
Apparently basing his performance on his grandmother, Ben Kingsley makes a very big impact with his role as brutal gangster Don Logan and he truly becomes the character and makes sure that we remember him after the credits have rolled. In his quieter moments, he manages to be a threatening presence by simply sitting still and showing us his cool, unfeeling gaze, admirably creating the impression that the wrong word or action will set off the powder keg inside him, and in the louder scenes, he is darkly entertaining and he blows us away when he shouts and spouts insult after insult with great diction and flair. Kingsley was apparently so effective that he unnerved most of the actors on set, it’s clear to see that in scenes where Ray Winstone noticeably cowers in his presence, and overall, Kingsley is clearly commited to the role and he presents us with a scary villain that has endured over the many years of cinema.