Brighton Rock

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Movie review by Neil Sadler

Starring: Sam Riley, Helen Mirren, John Hurt, Andy Serkis, Andrea Riseborough, Steven Robertson
Director: Rowan Joffe

If BRIGHTON ROCK were a woman, she’d be dark, beautiful, but a bit miserable and with not a lot to say.

Based on the book by Graham Greene, there is already a rather famous version of this film that some consider to be the greatest British film ever. So you may wonder why Rowan Joffe chose this to be his first feature. Sorry to report that having sat through it I am none the wiser.

Telling the story of Pinkie Brown, a two-bit gangster attempting to rise through the ranks of the Brighton mob, it is a dirty little story full of grubby and unlikeable characters.

As Pinkie, Sam Riley is unsmiling, grimly malicious and totally charm less. He has a suitable menace for the role, but the attempt at ambiguity in his relationship with Rose doesn’t really ring true. He may really love her, certainly she believes it, but his actions are those of a callous opportunist. To sound crass, I really couldn’t see what she saw in him.

As the hapless, hopeless Rose, Andrea Risborough is down trodden and extremely tragic, but again we have little chance to really understand and connect with her. We glimpse her home life when Pinkie effectively buys her from her father, but other than a romantic and perverse loyalty to Pinkie, she displays little character.

Even the stalwarts of British drama, John Hurt and Helen Mirren are cast adrift and have little to do, especially Hurt who rarely raises his role above that of a victim.

It looks stunning. Joffe casts an artistic eye over the story and although there is always that grim, dirtiness to all the sets and costumes, it gives a gravitas to the film that is lacking in the script. If it looks great when showing the scenery and the sets, sadly it just looks muddled whenever there is some action (although there isn’t much of that!). Whenever there is violence or a fight it becomes very difficult to tell what is happening and some pivotal moments are lost.

As for setting the film in the sixties, the main difference between this and the original film, this seems to be a device purely to show the ‘mods’ and ‘rockers’ and allow Pinkie to ride a moped. I don’t feel it adds much to the story and in fact detracts slightly. By setting it on the cusp of the sixties becoming swinging, it makes the characters, especially Rose, slightly anachronistic.

There are definitely signs of promise both in the cast and director. Both Sam Riley and Andrea Risborough have proven that they are good actors and Joffe has a good eye, but it is dangerous for even an experienced director to re-envisage a classic film, while to try and do this with your first film may be brave, but unfortunately here, doesn’t have enough merit to justify a remake.

3 out of 6 stars