The first time we see Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) in Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2000), the retired English safebreaker is definitively out-of-office. Speedo-clad and oiled up, he roasts poolside under the Andalusian sun. Gal and his wife, DeeDee (Amanda Redman), left London to cool off in a hacienda with their friends Jackie (Julianne White) and Aitch (Cavan Kendall), replicating a glamorous mob life sans mob jobs. The sun is Gal’s only appointment, and it gets his full attention. “You could fry an egg on my stomach,” he gloats to himself as the credits roll.
Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013) likewise opens with a long, steady look at an astral source that impels the rest of the film: the star-sun-portal births an alien who prowls Scotland at night in the form of Scarlett Johannson. In Sexy Beast, Glazer’s first feature, the sun is a furnace that delivers Gal from work, swelling and stupefying him. From the first until the last moments, Sexy Beast is an explosive testosterone- and sweat-drenched gangster movie of the “one last job” variety, as well as a moody showcase of superlative performances and written (or improvised) dialogue that anticipates the more austere, environmental work Glazer would go on to make.
Things start to get rocky even before Gal’s unhinged underworld associate Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) comes knocking. An unexpected phone call from Don terrorizes Jackie, and she repeatedly asks Gal for reassurance of his employment status. “I am definitely retired,” he responds. Don’s disturbing arrival suggests otherwise. He sadistically bullies and physically abuses Gal and DeeDee in order to get Gal to accept a heist job, frothing with expletives that roar through every room of the house.
Vast, blue-tinted scenes with landscapes of nightmarish hare-creatures veer from genre conventions and indicate Gal’s crumbling psyche. These sequences predict certain moments of David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006) as well as Donnie Darko (2001). At a cast party before shooting for Sexy Beast began, Winstone half-expected Sir Ben Kingsley to arrive with the spiritual presence he conveyed as Mahatma Gandhi. Instead, Kingsley arrived in character as Logan, so unflinching and unsettling that Winstone quietly retreated and escaped through an open window.
Sexy Beast shatters the image of peaceful life separated from the violent coercion of work. Safes are cracked and the most preciously guarded jewels float free. Maybe sex is the most guarded, the most valuable substance. Sweltering in the opening scene, Gal barks orders to his pool boy and then pulls a washcloth from a bowl of ice water, placing it delicately on his junk.
Sexy Beast screens tonight, September 16,at the Roxy in 35mm as part of the series “The Double Life of a Restaurateur | Keith McNally Selects.”