Sunning himself by the pool at his luxurious Costa del Crime villa, Gal (Ray Winstone), a retired London crook, escapes by a hair's breadth from being squashed like a fly by a huge boulder that has hurtled off a mountain to end up immersed in the pool. An omen, perhaps, for what is to happen to him. A Mr Big (Ian McShane) back in London wants him for one last bank job, and has enough on him to make it hard for Gal to refuse. To reinforce the message he despatches his most effective persuader, Don (Ben Kingsley), a hard man of such horrifying magnitude that he must truly be the house guest from hell.
He puts Gal and his terrified wife Deedee (Amanda Redman) through a horrible ordeal in which initial edgy courtesies soon turn into threats, violence and murder. Kingsley's performance is wonderfully over the top, turning a hard-nosed caper thriller into an intense black comedy, and has the effect of making Winstone, so often cast as a heavy, seem positively cuddlesome and sympathetic.
Jonathan Glazer's direction is lively and packed with surprises, and he has made the transition from prize-winning Guinness commercials to feature film with polished ease. Other pleasures include a chilling performance by Ian McShane, and the welcome reappearance of James Fox in a criminal setting, an echo of "Performance", more than 30 years ago.
2000 was not the greatest year for British films, but "Sexy Beast", combining thrills with humour, is rich in entertainment value and a good start for a New Year.