Sexy Beast
dir. Jonathan Glazer
Opens Fri June 22 at Guild 45th and Uptown.

From the moment it starts, Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast roils with menace. As plump, stately Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) sweats under impossible heat, lounging on a beach chair, muttering cockney asides, he's like a big pink sausage just waiting to be popped on fate's barbecue. Gal's a retired gangster, living high on a hill in the Costa del Sol, enjoying a lethargic existence replete with villa, swimming pool, loving wife, and dark-skinned servant boy. But Gal--who spends the first 10 minutes of the film naked except for a gold chain and a Speedo--and his brogue are as out of place here as the heart-shaped ceramic tiles on the floor of his pool. Something's got to break.

The first sign of impending doom is a 500-lb. boulder, which bounds down the hill (as though rolled by Zeus) into the pool, pulverizing the ceramic hearts; Gal's head misses being crushed by a matter of inches. A mildly subtler harbinger comes when Gal's cooking dinner on the grill, and the flames flare up and singe his eyebrows. Glazer plays these moments as surreal interruptions, but we know it can't be long before the real bad news arrives. Sure enough, it does, in the shape of Don Logan, played by Ben Kingsley with all the elemental fury of demonic unreason.

Don, whose tiny stature makes him seem all the more threatening--like a coiled viper--is there to coax Gal back to England for a job. Gal resists, but Don won't take no for an answer, setting in motion a verbal boxing match so artful and intense it turns the sprawling Spanish vista into a pressure cooker in which Gal is forced to reckon for his ill-had comforts.

In the tradition of classic British new wave thug films like Mike Hodges' Get Carter and Nicolas Roeg's Performance, Sexy Beast deploys crime melodrama to explore the psychic ramifications of life without moral consequences. A voice buried deep within Gal (which echoes in the beautifully hallucinatory visuals--the underwater heist scene is astounding) tells him and us that this can't last. Don is that voice, given brutal, relentless human form. In the fallout of their confrontation lies one of the finest films in recent memory.