Andrea Riseborough, Sam Riley
The overriding sense is one of smug self-importance – as though the cache of working on a Greene adaptation cleared the filmmakers of any need to make a competent movie
Seemingly based in part on Graham Greene’s 1938 novel and the 1947 film adaptation, 2011’s Brighton Rock also takes the trouble to update proceedings to the 1960’s, adding in photogenic mods on mopeds and the threat of youth riots to an already violent adaptation. The result is disjointed at the best of times and even occasionally laughable.In Short:
Writer/director Joffe (who recently penned George Clooney starrer The American) doesn’t seem to have any motivation for the change in period. In a way, the sense of militant youth actually takes away from the fierce character of Pinkie – a steely eyed 17 year old killer who was an aberration amongst the meek holidaymakers in previous versions of the story. The adaptation is also confused, sometimes slavish to Greene’s prose while also appropriating elements from John Boulting’s 1947 film version – such as a recording which marks one of the lowest points of the film.
Switchblades flashing under a night shrouded pier make a strong visual introduction and the film is never less than attractive, particularly the period detail and costumes. But even here Joffe often oversteps the mark – layering on the production design in search of atmosphere but creating clutter instead. There’s no part of the film that isn’t troubled and the overriding sense is one of smug self-importance – as though the cache of working on a Greene adaptation cleared the filmmakers of any need to make a competent movie.
As Pinkie and Rose (Riseborough) meander their way through the plot, it’s impossible to know why we should care about either character. Pinkie is a thug who dreams of greatness but his plans fail miserably. Rose is desperately looking for love and drawn to anyone who will give her the slightest bit of attention but her situation rapidly becomes totally unrealistic. Into this mix comes Mirren’s Ida, who goes out of her way to investigate the murder. In the book and the previous film, the character is motivated by a strong sense of right and wrong. Here, it’s a mixture of revenge and misplaced maternal worry for the young Rose but neither is that compelling.
Supporting turns from Helen Mirren and a disturbingly craggy John Hurt are decent, while Andy Serkis raises giggles as a comic book gangster, but the leads are more problematic. Since exploding onto the scene with 2007’s Control, Sam Riley hasn’t had a hit and this film isn’t likely to change matters. He growls and glowers his way through the performance but never captures the menace of the role, looking particularly out of place during the violent moments. Riseborough is better, mainly because she’s tasked with acting meek and clueless, though the constant references to her being ugly are bizarre.
Brighton Rock is an unsuccessful adaptation of Greene’s dense novel but even taken on its own merits there’s little here worth recommending. The plot is wafer thin, the love story one sided and far from compelling and the social commentary nil. What we’re left with is an attractive enough period film with no sense of what it wants to be – a doomed romance? An indictment of gang culture? Maybe it’s actually an uproarious comedy – a climactic fight scene could easily be comedy gold with a slight change of soundtrack. And the less said about the miraculous ending the better.
Self important and ultimately pointless, check out the book instead.