British actor Ray Winstone remains best known for playing gangster roles. I recently re-watched two of his more notable performances, Scum and Sexy Beast.
The DVD for Scum includes both the censored BBC TV cut and the full length theatrical version. Both were released in 1979 and feature Winstone in one of his first leading roles as Carlin, a juvenile delinquent sent to a Borstal. Both cuts do not shy away from violence and corruption rampant in the reformatory and the resolution is appropriately grim. Winstone was 22 at the time, and despite being relatively fresh in the business, he delivers very convincing and powerful performances. I love prison flicks, and Scum definitely ranks as one of the best.
The British press lauded Sexy Beast upon its release in 2000, but Ben Kingsley received most of the spotlight for an over-the-top performance. I prefer Winstone’s more subtle approach. In the film, he plays Gal Dove, a retired gangster living in Spain who gets dragged back into a job in London. Gal sports an over-sized belly and lazes by the pool in his Spanish villa, but once he is back in England, he is all business. The film builds on Winstone’s history of playing tough guys, giving his performance here – his unwillingness to re-enter the world of crime – additional depth.
Winstone has remarked that he is not a successful Hollywood actor. Last year, nevertheless, he co-starred in Martin Scorsese’s blockbuster The Departed. Given very little space in the film, Winstone’s role amounted to little more than a cameo. I much prefer his UK projects.