Sexy Beast is a crime drama about retired British gangster Gal Dove, who lives in Spain with his wife Deedee. They hang out with another British couple, Jackie and Aitch. They’re all in their late 40s or 50s and rather suntanned. Their idyllic life is disrupted when Don arrives. He is putting together a crew for a vault heist organized by mob boss Teddy, and Don needs Gal on the team. Gal refuses by stating he’s retired. But Don is insistent and his words and actions bear weight…he’s a dangerous man who behaves outside of the norms, even for a criminal. When Gal insists on refusing, Don knocks him out with a bottle and gets shot by Deedee. The 4 friends finish him off. Gal now flies to London to complete the job and reduce suspicion about Don’s disappearance. Teddy finds Don’s disappearance fishy but proceeds with the job. Once completed, he continues probing Gal about Don’s trip, then stiffs him for his cut and lets him go. The story is bookended by the 4 friends hanging at gal and Deedee’s house, having drinks around the pool, which now contains the body of Don.
The script starts out with the ‘status quo’ of our main character Gal. A middle-aged, retired man getting baked in the sun. He’s out of shape and has ‘gone soft’ in the literal and proverbial sense. He is relaxing but not relaxed, as his VO hints at a mind that’s not quite at ease yet.
A seemingly random event jolts the story out of the serene setting when a massive bolder ends up in Gal’s pool, nearly missing him. It felt a bit random as it happened, even though it does get paid off later.
There are hints that Gal used to be a tough guy, but at this point in his life we don’t know much he’s not very intimidating as we learn through his interactions with his pool boy Enrique and his wife and friends.
When Jackie informs Gal and the rest of the group that Don Logan called and is arriving soon to talk to Gal about the job, the mood drops from happiness to fear. Gal even says, “you don’t say no to Don,” and this foreshadows the remainder of the first half of the screenplay.
Before Don’s arrival, Gal and Aitch take the pool boy Enrique hunting, and even though they don’t kill any rabbits, this sets up Enrique and his gun which will pay off later.
Gal has a recurring nightmare of a Donnie Darko-type horror rabbit character who is about to execute him. I wonder if the intention was to paint an even darker picture of Don, or dealt with Gal’s issues of the past.
As Don arrives, we learn why…he is a dangerous man, but not simply because he’s a tough criminal, he’s dangerous because he is unhinged and without social boundaries. A fascinating character, he could be perceived as a petulant child, except his playpen consists of intimidation, accusation, threats, and violence.
Don has a clear goal…get Gal to London for a big heist job. Don does this with such force and conviction that anyone would have a difficult time saying no. He uses different tactics on Gal and additionally delves into uncomfortable personal information in which he reveals a previous affair with Jackie and talks about Deedee’s past as a porn actress.
Don escalates his request from asking to threatening and eventually brings up the fact that Gal owes Don for keeping his money while he was in prison. He doesn’t acknowledge that Gal served prison without ratting him out.
When Don brings out the fact that he’s had an affair with Jackie it seems like inappropriate macho bravado. In the end, when he’s close to his demise, we realize he actually had feelings for her, which also helps clarify his utter disdain for Aitch, Jackie's boyfriend. Jackie and Aitch get some retribution for the insults as they participate in his killing.
But Don seems to not be driven simply by fearless singlemindedness and madness. He is also very much preoccupied with his image; specifically, how will Gal’s refusal be perceived back home. Especially by boss Teddy whom Don mistakenly told that Gal’s on board.
This seems to be the driver behind the smoking stunt he pulls on the airplane in order to not leave Spain…he simply can’t go back without Gal. It would be too much of a slap in the face, especially in front of Teddy. When he is about to be interrogated by the local police, he flips the situation by making it about alleged sexual harassment. And he does it suave, and calm, not unhinged and angry…a master manipulator.
The single goal and refusal are the basis for the first half of the film. As such it could have been simplistic and repetitive, but Don is such a fascinating character that we are drawn into the situation asking ourselves, “how the hell is this going to end?”
The proverbial straw is finally broken when Don returns from the airport and attacks Gal with a bottle. Enrique appears with an old shotgun in defense of Gal but is intimidated by Don, who takes the shotgun and goes on a rant including vicious commentary about Deedee’s porno past. With Gal incapacitated, Enrique disarmed, Deedee finally shoots him with Gal’s shotgun. She does it without a big showdown. Besides diffusing the bomb that is Don Logan, what was fascinating about this moment is how a woman stepped in and just did the job, after having witnessed two days of male ranting, posturing, and intimidation.
But we leave Don injured on the patio floor and cut straight to Gal in London. I found this to be an interesting cut as it leaves us with another question.
Gal meets up with his old gangster pals and everyone’s boss Teddy for the heist. Robbing a secure vault by drilling a tunnel through the pool of a neighboring spa.
Teddy, however is suspicious and probes Gal about Don’s disappearance. Gal shrugs it off and pretends to be there for the job…just as Don had asked him to. This, along with his old reputation, is solid enough for Teddy to lay off him and focus on the job.
In a bit of the Teddy/heist backstory there’s a couple of scenes with Harry, the proprietor of the vault, in which Harry and Teddy are seemingly lovers. I found this somewhat confusing as it raised some questions which were set up but not clearly answered.
In a flashback we then finally learn what happened to Don…namely that Gal, Deedee, Jackie and Aitch killed him.
The heist goes as planned and Teddy offers to take Gal to the airport. On the way they make a stop at Harry’s house (at 5 am) where teddy kills Harry, then questions Gal again about Don.
It’s a tense scene but eventually, Teddy drops Gal at the airport and seemingly as punishment pays him for the job with a tenner, even though his cut was supposed to be several percent of the loot. Gal, accepting the ridiculous pay seems like a confession about Don.
Back in Spain, the boulder has been removed form the pool, and the damaged heart-shaped tile replaced. As the pool gets re-filled, we understand that under the tiles lies the body of Don Logan.
The 2 couples are back to drinks and banter. Having successfully weathered the storm and re-established the status quo.
The theme is often related to character transformation. What’s fascinating in Sexy Beast is that characters don’t seem to go through significant transformations through the course of the screenplay. But thinking about it made me wonder… the character’s transformations already occurred. Our main protagonist and his group have evolved from the gangster and porno life, moved on, and grown. Albeit financed by crime, they represent a new life without crime and violence, while Don presents the previous state of existence. Thus, going back to work for Don would represent regression. Is the theme, “evolve and survive, stagnate and die?”
Even though there are clear goals in the film (Don getting Gal for the job, Gal refusing, the heist) it felt that the goals were used to raise stakes and questions. In traditional heist or gangster films, the crew planning and executing the heist is the primary focus as we follow the crime being committed. In Sexy Beast the goals are set up to delve into characters. What makes it a fascinating read are the questions that keep us engaged. Because the goals are simple, the questions are not.
The big questions:
-Whether Don will convince/intimidate Gal into flying to London?
-Will Gal succeed in refusing the job?
-How much abuse will Gal take?
-How far will Don go?
-What happened with Don?
-Will Teddy buy Gal’s story?
Written by Louis Mellis, David Scinto
Directed by Jonathan Glazer