Sexy Beast

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Sexy Beast

Plump and basted to a golden brown in the blazing Mediterranean sun, Ray Winstone reclines by the pool at the beginning of Sexy Beast, marinated to perfection and ready to serve. This first image of Winstone as a soft, vulnerable creature stands in sharp contrast to his raging, abusive louts in 1997's Nil By Mouth and 1999's The War Zone, who were consumed by their destructive appetites. His role reversal is half of what separates Jonathan Glazer's taut, ferociously entertaining gangster film from other genre entries, which Britain churns out with the numbing regularity of American teen-sex comedies. The other half is Ben Kingsley, who, in an even greater feat of stunt casting, has transformed himself into Gandhi's opposite, a feral and scarily powerful mob kingpin who can stop a conversation cold at the mere mention of his name. Their toe-to-toe confrontations, made all the more violent by the sharp, Mametian rhythms of the dialogue, bring invigorating energy to the wheezy old premise of a retired criminal lured into one last score. When an errant boulder swoops over his head and crashes into the pool at his palatial home on the Spanish coast, it's a not-so-subtle sign that Winstone's carefree days of sunbathing and cookouts are numbered. At dinner with his wife (Amanda Redman) and friends (Cavan Kendall and Julianne White), he receives the chilling news that Kingsley is flying in from London personally to talk him out of retirement. Kingsley has volunteered Winstone to join a crew in an elaborate bank heist, but as much as Winstone resists the assignment—in one hilarious exchange, they bark "Yes!" and "No!" at each other like second-graders—the boss won't leave until he accepts. Save for an underwater heist sequence that's slightly better in concept than execution, there's little more to Sexy Beast than a lean showcase for two great actors operating in peak form. But Kingsley and Winstone play off each other beautifully, accentuating their individual performances while tapping into the raw, primal source of masculinity. Winstone's generous physique and barely concealed vulnerability could make him an acceptable stand-in for James Gandolfini in The Sopranos if he ever considered giving up the life. But, despite his subtle work, Kingsley commands the room in a flashier role, moving his wiry frame with frightening economy and spitting out coarse dialogue like a round of bullets. Even when sitting down, his posture alone, straightened to a perfect 90š angle, is far more threatening than the empty bluster of screen thugs twice his size.