Can the stylistic and symbolic freshness of Jonathan Glazer’s movie be replicated for the small screen?
We’ve had the pleasure of grappling with Jonathan Glazer‘s weird ideas for a good while. His films Birth and Under the Skin are especially unnerving cinematic exercises that positively eat into our psyches. Of course, we also ought not to leave out Glazer’s quaint but equally striking directorial debut, Sexy Beast, when it comes to singing the filmmaker’s praises.
The odds of us forgetting one of the most unusual of crime films are pretty slim anyway because Anonymous Content and Paramount Television plan to resurrect it. Sort of. Deadline has announced that the cult film will get a TV prequel to call its own.
The original Sexy Beast is a sharp gangster story that features a deceivingly basic premise. Retired London gang member Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) is relaxing with his wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman) in Spain, having started afresh after a stint in prison. Unfortunately, he is suddenly called back into a life of crime by a volatile ex-associate, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley). Crime boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) is planning a bank robbery and wants Gal involved despite his objection.
According to Deadline, the Sexy Beast prequel will chronicle each of these characters’ backstories leading up to the explosive events of the film. Gal will be a star thief rising through the criminal ranks who partners up with Don, a notoriously ferocious gangster. Together, they navigate the criminal underworld as part of Teddy’s syndicate. Somewhere along the way, Gal meets and falls in love with DeeDee, an adult film star. The complex relationship between Gal and Don is said to be a focal point in the TV prequel, too.
Sexy Beast screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto will contribute to the prequel as executive producers, while Michael Caleo. Caleo’s work on The Sopranos netted him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. Furthermore, he’s written for FX’s Rescue Me, developed NBC’s Ironside, and co-penned Luc Besson’s film The Family.
Caleo’s resume is varied, but his experience within the crime genre is noteworthy. Admittedly, The Family doesn’t totally sail as a crime-comedy due to jarring tonal inconsistencies that makes jokes fall flat and the violence feel inconsequential. However, his episode of The Sopranos titled “Where’s Johnny?” is a searing look into mobster legacy. The “good” old days haunt characters to varying degrees as present-day tensions rise between mobs across state lines. “Where’s Johnny?” and its in-depth plot-driven character exploration could make the case for Caleo’s involvement in the Sexy Beast prequel.
That said, I struggle to see just how the unique elements of Sexy Beast can be adequately replicated on the small screen. The film is fascinating and complex largely in part because of Glazer’s strong direction and a distinct lack of adherence to convention despite his respect for genre tenets.
Sexy Beast‘s simple plot is ultimately a red herring and the movie is all the better for it. Rather than encouraging audiences to just watch a genre film play out in tired traditional fashion, we’re made to traverse the story with a sense of world-weariness over genre repetition.
Sexy Beast introduces its protagonist comically sunbathing by a pool, happily lavishing in peace and quiet and the comforts of a stable relationship. Unfortunately, he is then forced back into a gritty, unforgiving world he would much rather forget. And so begins a study of the motivations that underpin Gal’s dilemmas. This is a movie filled with relationships both fraught and steadfast that combat one another for dominance in the character’s heart.
The violence and impermanence of mob life, which are prominently exemplified by Kingsley’s exceptionally vulgar performance as well as McShane’s subdued yet still vicious one, holds very little allure for Gal. He’s scared of it. Rather, his only real motivator comes from love, especially for DeeDee and the happy bubble he’s cultivated with her. Gal is so enraptured by a life without crime that the thought of taking part in a new heist is only anxiety-inducing and personally unfulfilling. In order to get through said job, he has to actually reiterate the strength and tenacity of love rather than relish in the emptiness of his assumed task.
This is the ultimate choice that makes Gal more intriguing as a character. This idea that he elects to preserve love, family, and tranquility over the tortured, fragile camaraderie of an unrelentingly toxic criminal community makes Sexy Beast special.
These inner conflicts exponentially raise the stakes for Gal because his expressions of adoration are genuine enough for us to empathize with his plight and we hope that he someday finds the peace he so doggedly seeks. Consequently, this heightens the confronting impact of the narrative’s tension, especially when we’re made to witness the physical and verbal atrocity carried out by Don and Teddy.
As such, the draw of Sexy Beast is primarily grounded in its emphasis on the characters’ present circumstances. The audience of the film doesn’t know Gal, Don, Teddy, or DeeDee as they once were, but we don’t have to in order to understand on a deeply perceptive level that most of them are more than their stock archetypes. The film’s original treatment of its insular narrative succeeds in generating unexpected fascination for an erstwhile criminal wrestling with his conscience.
In theory, these characters could obviously be given extended backstories and adequately flourish on the small screen. Yet, doing so could run the risk of turning them into more generic fixtures by purposely convoluting a plot that excelled due to simplicity.
We’ll have to wait and see who else jumps on board for the Sexy Beast prequel to properly assess the show’s potential for originality. I’m glad that Mellis and Scinto are overseeing the project to some degree, if only for assurances of continuity. For now, hopefully, Caleo keeps the spirit of the original movie in mind, and that his affinity for strong character building bodes well for Gal and gang.
Related Topics: TV Development