Sexy Beast

Ray Winstone stars as Gary "Gal" Dove, a onetime London gangster who has retired to sunny Spain with his ex-porn star wife and their two friends. All is peaceful until an unwelcome face from his past comes to visit: Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), a psycho with a short fuse who has been sent by their former boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) to haul Gal back up to London for the Heist of the Century. Gal realizes that this is all-around bad news, but unlike most caper films, the story focuses not so much on the heist itself but on the conflicting (and conflicted) characters of these two men.

Sexy Beast is obscenely stylish, but not shallowly so: Glazer may come from the world of TV commercials and rock videos, but here the gloss has voice and purpose. You get the sense that the camera is used thoughtfully, not just for show. The stylishness is also weighed down – literally and figuratively – by Winstone's sad, pudgy, very human hero.

As for Kingsley, his eye-opening performance is already the most cherished of the year. He has a field day as the foul-mouthed, Cockney-accented, hyper-violent thug Don Logan – he's probably been dying to cut loose like this during his last 20 years of stoic, constipated roles – but he's still Ben Kingsley, short, skinny, bald, 57-year-old Ben Kingsley, and his physical drawbacks keep his character from ever becoming truly threatening. Surprisingly, this actually serves the story: without giving any surprises away, there's something finally pathetic about Don Logan: the real menace is McShane's Mr. Big character, quiet evil with a heart of stone.

Sexy Beast is a guy movie, to be sure, loaded with plenty of testosterone. But it's also a thinker's thriller, a character study, and in a way high camp: dig that loungey soundtrack, those garish colors, and Winstone's flabby belly filmed in wicked closeup. These details, I think, are meant to bring out the lie in the characters' machismo. Sexy Beast belongs with the best of Britain's sporadic output of Great Gangster Films, alongside Get Carter and The Long Good Friday.