Establishing Villains – Part 2: Sexy Beast

When I wrote Part 1, I originally intended to include this film as an example. But when I realized how much I was getting out of it, I decided to branch it off into its own separate study. It also inspired me to turn this into an indefinite series of posts. I don’t know when I’ll end it, but I know I’ll learn a lot. I plan to analyze some very old movies, real classics, so stay tuned for that.

I’m going to analyze a scene from the film, Sexy Beast (2000), starring Ben Kingsley as Don Logan, badass extraordinaire. First off let me say that if you haven’t seen this film, you need to. Make sure you also watch Ghandi (1982), also starring Ben Kingsley, and you will understand the measure of a good actor. Don Logan’s first scene uses The Unknown Principle I talked about in Part 1. This scene is a fantastic example of effectively establishing a villain, so I’m going to break the whole scene down so I can figure out what makes it work so well. Watch the scene below now.

All of the shots with Don are static. He remains rigid, with no expression.

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Note the intense soundtrack. Juxtaposing these shots with those of small, slow movements, and looks of concern, effectively clues the audience in (without dialogue) to how bad Don Logan is:

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These last two frames are from the scene proceeding this one.

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There’s a huge contrast in the pacing between the scenes with Don Logan, and those without. Watch the clip above again, and note how quickly the shots with Don Logan jump around. Notice the amount of different shots we get of him; there’s a lot more cutting going on. Lots of cutting raises the stakes, and makes it seem more intense. Watch your favorite action flick or war movie; There’s like a billion cuts in the fight scenes. But let’s do the numbers here: In the parts of this scene without Don Logan, there are two cuts. In the parts of this scene with Don Logan, there are twelve cuts. Watch it again, and count them. That’s a big difference in pacing.

So the Don Logan parts have lots of cutting:

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Lots of  speed:

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And dynamic angles:

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This is right before Don Logan’s first line, and it’s a beauty. What a way to  introduce a character. A hard stop into the drive way followed by a line that, in the commentary, Kingsley relates to a fist in the face.

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Add this all up and you get a picture in your mind of an intimidating man. But this only works if the other shots (those without Don Logan) don’t have all of these elements, which they don’t. As Sidney Lumet or David Mamet would say, without dialogue you tell the story through the effective juxtaposition of shots. The director of this film set a precedant that he stuck to. This could quite easily have been reversed. The shots of Don Logan could have been silent, with no movement, and just plane old creepy acting (Silence of the Lambs from Part 1). It doesn’t matter how you make them evil as far as the pacing or shots are concerned, you just have to set a precedant, and stick to it. In this scene the music plays a huge part in pumping adrenaline into the audience.

Here’s some other great shots from this film:

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I love the way he comes out of his dream. A quick zoom out with a sucking sound effect:

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Using backlighting covers the face in shadow, and creates and imposing effect

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Same thing here, this shot is right after the clip above.

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Next up, something classic!