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Since then, his judgment of scripts has proved shaky. ”I‘ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong again.“ Still, there have been enough scattered nuggets to remind you just how good Winstone can be, even when wading through shoddy material: Tim Roth‘s The War Zone, for instance, where his commitment shone through an otherwise confused incest melodrama, or Agnes Browne, in which he lent Anjelica Huston’s Irish farrago an undeserved grace. And more, of course, besides, the sorry results of routine typecasting that left many of his best roles -- those calling for more than the regurgitation of his trademark slyly avuncular menace -- coming onstage in the likes of Sam Mendes‘ recent London theater production of To the Green Fields Beyond.
Now, however, Sexy Beast has again offered him the chance to stretch his legs on film. By turns wry and affecting, there is -- despite the gulf in tone -- an echo of Nil by Mouth going on here; because, taken in tandem, you couldn’t find better proof that Winstone doesn‘t do just caricatures. ”I suppose I looked for the honesty,“ he says. ”I mean, yeah, he could have been a cartoon, this big fat geezer lollying in the sun and giving it the large. But you have to find something human in that.“
And that’s exactly what Winstone does, delivering a nimble character study underscored with an acute physical vocabulary (a recurring theme in Winstone‘s best work -- witness Nil by Mouth’s drunken thug rearranging his underwear after half-killing his wife). Yet you look at Winstone, and you can‘t help worrying that the same authenticity that’s made him such a cult figure has also found him hemmed in, refused him the choices available to his middle-class peers. That he‘s still as much of a square peg as when, at drama school, he unapologetically recited Shakespeare in Hackney patois to his horrified tutors. Only, somehow, you sense that he’s grown used to -- even fond of -- his outsider status. ”Yeah,“ he shrugs. ”Maybe. But it‘s only the wankers that use it. I mean, you’ve got your Richard Attenboroughs, and maybe he comes from an upper-class background, maybe he don‘t, but either way he’s a beautiful man. Course, it‘s a lot simpler in the States. Over there, it’s all about dough.“
Dough. The States. Two things you could forgive Winstone considering -- especially given the departure of so many fellow Londoners in search of better roles and bigger paychecks. So, with the U.S. release of Sexy Beast and the thriller Ripley‘s Game (a remake of Wim Wenders’ American Friend) set to open later this year, is Winstone finally ready to go west? There‘s a moment of amused deliberation. ”Aaah . . . I mean, I’d love to go out there and do something good. But I don‘t just want to be the geezer on someone’s shoulder. I haven‘t worked for 25 years to do that.“ And the money? The response is pure Ray Winstone. ”Yeah, but how much money do you want? I mean, I’ve got mates there who get paid bundles, but then they have to make the next one a bit lively, even if it‘s a piece of crap, just to pay the tax.“ A beat. ”D’you know what I mean? So bollocks to that.“
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