Gal Dove (Ray Winstone), retired from London's criminal underworld, is lazing by the pool, baking under the scorching Spanish sky in Costa del Sol. Leathery, chubby, covered with suntan oil and sporting a too-small swim suit, he's muttering to himself about how bad it is back in Merry Olde England and ordering his pool boy around as the Stranglers' punky, provocative "Peaches blasts on the soundtrack.
Without warning, a boulder comes tumbling down from the cliffs above, barely missing Gal and splashing down into the pool, landing atop a painting of a heart. The guy wants peace, as his very name implies, and all he gets is trouble, an unwelcome intrusion into the love nest he's made with his wife, ex-porn star DeeDee (Amanda Redman).
There's more grief ahead for the reluctant, high-living thief in "Sexy Beast," the latest heist drama from England and, thus far, the most pleasant surprise of the summer. Jonathan Glazer, heretofore best known as the creator of Radiohead and Massive Attack videos, and Guinness television commercials, makes a striking directorial debut with this piece of violent, unsettling postmodern film noir. Glazer, contrasting passages dominated by bright sunshine with watery interiors and murky, bizarre dream sequences featuring a sort of demonic walking rabbit, effectively ratchets up the tension. He employs flashbacks, surprise twists and other techniques to take the narrative in unexpected directions. The thing absolutely resonates.
Winstone ("The War Zone") is terrific as a tough guy gone soft, willfully passive until forced to become aggressive, and Redman is convincing, too, as a woman prepared to do whatever it takes to secure her long-delayed life of domesticity. But Ben Kingsley, beloved for his Oscar-winning work as the title character in "Gandhi," is the film's MVP. Kingsley's career is practically reborn with his riveting performance as Don Logan, an old gangland associate sent by Teddy Bass (Ian McShane, slick and scary) to con Gal into one more job, a seemingly impossible raid of a safe-deposit vault.
Don, feared and loathed by everyone he's ever met, is a human attack dog, a trim, compact little man with a heavy Cockney accent and an exceedingly nasty way of dealing with those who won't take his orders. He spits out his demands to Gal, verbally abuses DeeDee, and spooks the couple's timid friends Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White), generally behaving as if in dire need of a brick to the head. The guy is a human hate machine with a chrome dome, an insanely confident pit bull unable to take no for an answer.
One or two twists of fate later, and Gal is back in dark, rainy London, playing a key role in an ingenious underwater raid. Much of the tension is lost during this final act of the film, but not enough to make us forget how hard "Sexy Beast" rocks when Kingsley is center stage.