Brighton Rock

Movies, Drama
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Brighton Rock
Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival

A remake of John Boulting’s 1947 noir classic? It may sound like sacrilege, but Joffe’s sharply turned entertainment will stand on its own merits. Joffe’s big idea is to update the material to 1964, when mods and rockers brought their tribal differences to the beach.

It’s a clever conceit that resonates without radically altering the thrust of Graham Greene’s novel (published in 1938). There are passing references to the pill and capital punishment, but most pressingly, there’s the prevailing apprehension that youth is on the brink of throwing over the last remnants of the pre-war order, and probably the baby along with the bathwater.

Sam Riley’s pier-lurking thug Pinkie Brown is a self-loathing sociopath, but also a quick study who sees opportunity when his boss is murdered by a rival protection racket. Andrea Riseborough is Rose, the none-too bright tea girl whose testimony could put Pinky and his mates behind bars.

Recognising a fellow ‘Roman’, Pinky insinuates himself into her life but uncharacteristically hesitates to take it. ‘You’re good, I’m bad – we’re made for each other,’ he tells her, a line that Greene might have been proud of.

Joffe – whose father, Roland made ‘The Mission’, and whose script for the upcoming Anton Corbijn film ‘The American’ also exercises Catholic themes – appreciates that the couple’s mutual attraction is the heart of the matter, and provides enough insight into each of them to make it work. In one early scene, Pinky vindictively pinches her arm, and she gives him permission to carry on if it pleases him. ‘Don’t be soft,’ he scoffs, but it’s his own emotions he’s afraid of.

With its spivs and shivs and grease-slicked hair, ‘Brighton Rock’ feels far more of a period piece than ‘Quadrophenia’ ever did. Rather than fight it, Joffe accentuates the melodrama in a heightened rhetorical style that’s unmistakably old school: he signals pivotal moments with bold crane shots and cues another crescendo from Martin Phipps’s orchestral score (neither the mods nor the rockers get much of a look in). There is even a cliff-top embrace beside the Seven Sisters – the kind of romantic flourish that would make most contemporary filmmakers blush. Maybe that stuff doesn’t fly with audiences now, but bless Joffe for going for it.

Representing the old guard, a flame-haired Helen Mirren almost walks away with it as the indefatigable Ida, but in the end there is no getting around Riley’s sneering, shabby louse, and Riseborough’s pathetic, blind devotion to him. This is one wretched love story, but it sticks.

By: Tom Charity

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Release details

Rated: R
Duration: 0 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Rowan Joffe
Screenwriter: Rowan Joffe
Cast: Sam Riley
Andrea Riseborough
Andy Serkis
Helen Mirren
John Hurt
Nonso Anozie