Nicolas Roeg’s 1970 directorial debut (in collaboration with Donald Cammell) is loaded with sex, drugs and self-importance, qualities that—along with the casting of Mick Jagger—have led some to dismiss the film as a Swinging London relic. Doing so completely misinterprets its legacy: The first hour of Performance constitutes nothing less than the birth of the modern British crime thriller. Sexy Beast, Layer Cake and dozens more wouldn’t exist if Roeg and Cammell’s template were’t there to follow.
James Fox plays Chas, a vain mob enforcer who falls out with his employers and holes up at the townhouse of Turner (Jagger), a hedonistic musician who spends lots of time taking baths with his companions Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton). Chas and Turner’s creepy codependence gives Roeg plenty of leeway to develop techniques that are now Indiewood staples, but the director’s abstract storytelling is much more effective when he’s mapping the filthy streets of London instead of the twisted corridors of his protagonists’ minds.—Andrew Johnston