Psychopaths in Film – Sexy Beast
Sir Ben Kingsley gives what must surely be one of the most intense and brilliant performances of a disturbed character ever in the British crime thriller Sexy Beast. His portrayal of the unhinged gangster Don Logan stands as an all time classic performance of an extreme character in film.
Technically speaking, the Don Logan character that Kingsley portrays is probably not so much a psychopath as psychotic; however we simply had to include it in this series as the performance is so brilliant. Also, with Ian McShane’s equally brilliant portrayal of the malevolent, controlled psychopath Teddy Bass, you get two terrifying screen characters for the price of one in this classic film.
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Quick Plot Summary
The plot centres around ex gangster Gal Dove, played by Ray Winstone, who has made his money and retired to Spain to live (hopefully) happily ever after in fairytale fashion with his wife Deedee (Amanda Redman). This idyllic peace is shattered when Ben Kingsley’s unhinged Don Logan character turns up out the blue to coax Gal into doing one last job.
A battle of wills ensues between Logan and Gal, who has resolutely left his gangster life behind and wants nothing more to do with that world. Logan is having none of it and ferociously and relentlessly harasses Gal to do the job, resulting in an explosive showdown from which Gal is effectively forced to do the job.
The “come out of retirement to do one last job” plot has been well worn in films to date but the performances in this film are so brilliant across the board that it stands out as one of the very best independent crime thriller films ever made in our opinion. It was widely praised by critics upon release and is rich in subtext, undertones and plot threads which are not fully fleshed out but left to the imagination, which increases the intrigue of the story.
Don Logan as a Terrifying Psychotic
As we mentioned the Don Logan character is in technical terms more on the psychotic end of the spectrum than the psychopathic, in that he is clearly not sane and has frequent breaks with reality, multiple personalities and a very unhinged, unstable character that can turn on a dime.
Gal and his friends dread to be in his company as conversation is awkward and unpredictable. “Do you want to have a look round (my house)?” Gal implores Don while they are sat around with Gal’s friends trying to break the ice. “Yeah I will in a minute when I have a piss” replies Don, seemingly not getting that is not the sort of thing one just blurts out in polite company. It is like an embarassing, cringe-worthy episode of Borat, but with a psychotic violent gangster instead.
As the film progresses and Gal remains steadfast in his refusal to do the job, Don’s behaviour becomes ever more erratic and unpredictable as a psychotic rage starts to bubble up to the surface. He obnoxiously urinates on Gal’s bathroom floor in protest and then bursts into Gal’s room and assaults him while he is asleep.
The scene in between him doing these two things has to be one of the most unhinged but strangely amusing depictions of a broken, split psychotic mind with multiple personalities. See here for the “mirror” scene (spoiler alert).
The Don Logan character is ultimately no good as a gangster simply because he is out of control and has too many breaks with reality to blend into society as criminals need to to avoid detection. As an example of this he ostensibly returns to the airport to catch a plane home when Gal blows him out one last time, but draws himself into a huge argument which leads to him getting off the plane and being detained by customs.
Basically, he argues himself off the plane on purpose so he can go back to Gal’s place and exact his revenge on him for refusing to do the job. The scene where he wriggles his way out of being detained is hilarious but the following scene where he returns to Gal to confront him is terrifying as he completely loses control and his full psychotic personality is revealed.
Sir Ben Kingsley’s performance as Don Logan is sometimes funny, sometimes confusing and often frightening, but always utterly brilliant and captivating. It is an example of method acting at it’s finest and the film is worth watching for this performance alone. And we haven’t even got the the real psychopath yet….
Ben Kingsley gives the Don Logan character a snarky, unhinged, psychotic edge thats makes the performance utterly brilliant and captivating
Teddy Bass as a Malevolent Psychopath
The true psychopathic character in Sexy Beast is the character of Teddy Bass played by Ian McShane. Kingsley’s performance as Don Logan tends to get the spotlight when people talk about the film, but McShane’s performance is equally brilliant if very different.
Teddy Bass is the criminal mastermind or overlord based in London who plans out the robberies that Logan and others then recruit people for. The character is superbly played by McShane and carries a constantly evil and dark aura about him. You wouldn’t want to mess around with this guy or even look at him or say something to him the wrong way.
The crucial difference between Teddy Bass and Logan is that Teddy is an utterly controlled and composed psychopath, perfectly sane and fully aware of what he is doing. This is in contrast to psychotics, who cannot be considered sane and have frequent breaks with reality.
Bass is more in control and able to blend into society, though no less evil than Logan. Just better at hiding it. Through a chance meeting he manipulates his way into using the services of a security deposit box company and from there plans an elaborate robbery of the facility.
What stands out in Bass’s character is also the predatory intelligence that higher level psychopaths are often known for. He is adept at reading people and sniffing out weak points and will keep going like a dog at a bone once he finds one.
Upon meeting Gal in London he immediately (correctly) senses that Gal is hiding something about what happened with Don in Spain and will not let the issue drop. He continues to question Gal and even when he is apparently satisfied with the explanation Gal gives him, there is still a malevolent grin that tells the viewer this issue is not going away.
Ian McShane gives a masterful performance in Sexy Beast as the utterly evil and corrupted crime lord Teddy Bass
He later gets the information he needs out of Gal by a horrific but calculating move typical of a psychopath. He abruptly and suddenly murders someone in front of Gal, on the surface solving one problem of murdering a witness of sorts and covering his tracks for the robbery he just committed.
However, the suddenness of what he did so shocks Gal that it completely breaks him down to the point he cannot front up anymore and he finally confesses to Teddy indirectly what really happened, which he had previously lied to him about.
This is a clever move by Teddy but also utterly evil and malevolent and characteristic of psychopathic types. In one cold calculating move he solves two problems – he kills an important witness who could expose him and also breaks down Gal to the point where he tells him the truth.
Only a psychopath could do that as killing someone has no meaning to them. It is just a means to an end and with no emotions like guilt or empathy to get in the way they can view everything they do, however brutal and heartless, as just a calculation to get from A to B, or to “kill two birds with one stone” as the saying goes.
This scene alone brilliantly portrays how the psychopath is a self murdered person. For a normal person to do what Bass does would devastate them as we have feelings and emotions but Bass murdered that part of himself long ago.
Even Gal is shocked and stunned by the brazenness of how Bass just murders someone like it’s the easiest thing in the world. He just pulls his gun out and does it; it’s like tying his shoelaces or buttoning his shirt up to Bass. There’s an evil and inhuman aura to his character that is brilliantly projected by McShane and his performance should not be forgotten alongside Kingsley’s as they are both superb.
Dennis Lehane on Sexy Beast
Ultimately an Uplifting Film
Despite it’s portrayal of evil from multiple angles, Sexy Beast is ultimately an uplifting film as it shows that ordinary human values like love and happiness ultimately triumph over evil. It also depicts evil people as ultimately deeply broken and unhappy people, with no connection to others but ultimately no connection to themselves.
Gal Dove is the happy guy in this film; happy in his life and happy in his identity. He just wants a quiet life in Spain with his wife and friends and doesn’t care for violence, crime, or power and dominance over others anymore. He has been a thief in the past but is at peace with himself now.
Don Logan and Teddy Bass represent the evil, psychopathic, and deeply corrupted people in life. They are not happy in themselves and are projecting their own unhappiness out onto the world; acting out their inner misery by “laying waste to the world” as Dennis Lehane points out in the video above.
This chronic unhappiness also leads them to snuff out other people’s happiness, because they see someone with traits and a life they can never have because of the deep corruption and poison they have in themselves.
Don Logan admits this in one scene when Gal is telling him straight that he has no need to go back to crime as he is happy as he is. “I won’t let you be happy, why should I“, Logan retorts. He needs Gal to do the job but he also can’t stand to see someone else happy in a way that he can never be and takes pleasure in trying to snuff it out.
Ultimately Gal wins though. After completing the job and breaking down Gal to the point where he effectively confesses the truth, Teddy considers it a power trip to pay Gal only ten pounds for doing the job. “Only got twenties, you got change?” Teddy remarks as a further dig at Gal and to show he isn’t even joking.
Gal doesn’t care about the insult and is happy to take the tenner and go back to his idyllic life in Spain. He has a happiness inside himself that Teddy cannot conceive of in his evilness and destructiveness. He murders others with ease because he has murdered himself psychologically.
Gal doesn’t care for the power games or ego trips as Teddy and others in that world do. As he says earlier in the film: “(I’ve) got it right in one. Inside. That’s where”.
Sexy Beast and other British Crime Thrillers – Click to view on your local Amazon store
Gangster No. 1 and 44 Inch Chest are also written by the same writers as Sexy Beast – Louis Mellis and David Scinto.