Writing Better Dialogue – Part 1
Beats, Omissions, and Rhythmic Language
When I’m looking to freshen up my dialogue, there are certain movies I return to. One of them’s Sexy Beast. While It’s a good film overall, dialogue is what makes this flick sizzle. Some of Sexy Beast’s most memorable scenes occur between a sociopathic gangster named, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) and a retired safe cracker, Gal Dove (Ray Winstone). It’s two of these scenes I’ll be examining. But first, the screenplay itself merits a few words.
The original screenplay, by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, sparkles under scrutiny. In fact, Ben Kingsley’s stated that the cast delivered every exclamation and expletive as it appears in the script without improvisation. Having spent a long time comparing the movie to the original script, I found Kingsley’s claims to be slightly exaggerated – but only slightly. Changes were made but are so minor they hardly count.
So before we start digging into a scene, what’s this movie about?
A Synopsis of the Plot:
After nine years in prison, ex-safecracker Gal Dove leaves London and retires in rural Spain with his wife Deedee. Gal and Deedee are deeply in love and enjoying life in their remote villa when Gal’s past life as a criminal catches up with him. A ruthless gangster named Don Logan arrives determined to convince Gal to take part in a big job. Although he’s terrified of Don and the people he represents, Gal doesn’t want to risk returning to jail, losing Deedee, or being sucked back into the game. So Gal stubbornly, but politely, refuses to take the job. This leads to a ferocious battle of wills between Don and Gal. Ultimately, Gal’s forced to take the job in order to protect Deedee, but his participation doesn’t happen quite the way Don has it worked out.
Scene One: Confrontation at the Villa
Some Context – A few days prior, Gal learns that Don is flying over to discuss a job. Merely hearing Don Logan’s name is enough to visibly rattle Gal. Jackie and Aitch, two friends who also have criminal ties in London, pick Don up at the airport and drive him to Gal and Deedee’s villa. After a tense and awkward attempt at chit chat in the sitting room, Aitch takes Jackie and Deedee out to dinner leaving Don and Gal alone to discuss business.