Brighton Rock

23 Sep

Title: Brighton Rock
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Rowan Joffe
Writer: Rowan Joffe, based on the novel by Graham Greene
Starring: 
Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Andy Serkis, John Hurt, Helen Mirren
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
111 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 
52%

I was rather looking forward to Brighton Rock when I first heard of it. It was the directorial debut of Rowan Joffe, the writer of 28 Weeks Later as well as last year’s The American (which I liked more than most and gave an enthusiastic B+ to), and had a cast full of both proven veterans of the British acting world and some young up-and-comers, not to mention that it had a plot that seemed to combine elements of both film noir and British gangster movies in the best of ways. And it’s good, I certainly liked the film a good deal, but when it was all said and done I thought there was something missing from this latest adaptation of Graham Greene’s iconic novel to really set it apart and propel it to real excellence.

Mr. Joffe has made a few alterations to the amazing source material, however, updating the time to a mid-sixties Britain so that he can tackle more of that great British gangster time that it was and embed this film with more than its fair share of explicit violence, and he has also taken his liberties by taking out a few character and story details that, for my money, he would have been much more wise to leave in. That being said, however, I will say that this adaptation is still quite loyal to its source novel, and in today’s world of endless adaptations and interpretations, that’s all we can really ask for. I mean, the atmosphere on hand Mr. Joffe crafted for this film is just terrific and totally evoking of the novel’s bleak nature, and the change of era allowed for him to use youth riots and number of other things to add a tinge of social unrest that really gives the film a really cool edge.

Sam Riley, who broke out a few years ago thanks to his stellar performance as Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn’s Control (and who’s set to star as Sal Paradise in Walter Salle’s upcoming adaptation of On the Road), plays Pinkie Brown in this one, the sociopathic, small-time thug who’s part of a second-rate gang in Brighton. He meets Rose, played by Andrea Riseborough, a waitress at a local tea shop, and with her he goes walking down the pier, just as they encounter Fred Hale, a rival gang member, an encounter that’s captured in a photograph. Soon after, Pinkie beats Hale to death beneath the pier, which means now he has to get rid of the photographic evidence that they had met, as well as manage to keep Rose silent about the whole ordeal. Not to mention that there’s also Ida, the character the legendary Helen Mirren plays here, Rose’s boss at the tea shop who had a casual affair with Hale and starts suspecting Pinkie of it as she starts questioning Rose, who seems to be falling for him, about the killing.

This is good stuff we get here, the whole historic background of the clash between the Mods and the Rockers that shaped so much the British teenage culture adds to the ideas that Mr. Joffe toys with here that deal so much with a lot of social unease that you can see seething from under Pinkie, who along with Rose can be seen as some sort of representation of this new sort of identity that started coming up at the time. You don’t really get why Rose would ever fall for a guy that seems as evil as Pinkie, but she does, and a lot of attention is given to their very unromantic courtship, which you get the idea that Pinkie is only going along with to keep her quiet about what she knows, the only thing they have in common being their devout Roman Catholicism.

Pinkie might as well kill her off too, but instead he marries her, that way she can’t be forced to testify against him, as Rose learns too late from the protective Ida who tries to no avail to get her off the claws of Pinkie. So you see why I say that the gloom of Brighton Rock is what makes it what it is, as Mr. Joffe crafts the film noir version of the modern British gangster movie, and is aided by a skillful cast, Mr. Riley and Ms. Riseborough do a good job at showing the evolving painful relationship between Pinkie and Rose, then you have the wonderful Ms. Mirren who gives a powerful performance as the steely Ida that shows that she’s a force to be reckoned with, and the you have the likes of Andy Serkis, as the crime lord of the Colleoni gang, and John Hurt as Corkery, an old friend of Ida’s. This is a brilliant cast.

Brighton Rock isn’t a masterful adaptation of Graham Greene’s splendid novel, but it still is this very good neo-noir exercise in filmmaking and is definitely a very respectable debut film from Mr. Joffe who manages to craft an effective and moody little crime movie. There’s obviously stuff that would have made it a better film, giving Pinkie a back story for one, but what it does is still solid, it obviously wanted to get some sort of theological debate going by how much it delved into the Catholicism part of it all, which I didn’t think it did as successfully by not making it as important as it was in the novel, but it still has a gritty film that makes this one become a very competent noir.

Grade: B

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