Writer/director Rowan Joffe’s new 2010 version of Brighton Rock has a lot of to live up to as people remember it’s 1947 predecessor fondly. In his remake, Joffe has decided to update the stories original 1930’s setting to the 1960’s world of battles between Mods and Rockers. Both versions are based on Graham Greene’s novel by the same name published in 1938.
Brighton Rock immediately sets itself in good stead with a plethora of talented cast members. The central teenage character Pinkie Brown is played convincingly by 30 year old Sam Riley. Pinkie is trying to work his way up within Brighton’s ranks of organized crime. Things don’t go according to plan; when he commits (what I assumed to be his first) murder, a revenge killing under the pier. Little does Pinkie know that minutes before, a seaside photographer has snapped Pinkie’s accomplice Spicer (Phil Davis) on the pier with Pinkie’s soon to be murder victim Hale, who’s trying his luck with waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough). As the photographer leaves the incriminating ticket stub with Rose, Pinkie makes it his mission to seduce Rose in order to get it back from her.
Brighton Rock has a strong Catholic element of right and wrong running though it (Pinkie and Rose are both Catholic). As I watched, I found it interesting to consider what drives Pinkie to make the choices he does. The main one that springs to mind was his scheme to seduce Rose (despite his obvious contempt for her), then marry her in an attempt to silence her. Once married, Rose is then not obliged to give evidence against Pinkie in a murder trial. One wonders why he would not simply choose to kill her as well. Could it be that Pinkie is not all bad?
Pinkie, however, reveals himself to have strong opinions on what constitutes sin, and has definitely written himself off as all bad. It’s as if he has already accepted his place in hell in the afterlife which therefore makes him who he is in this life. In contrast, Rose (who has a very innocent character) has an almost annoying need to only see good in him. She refuses to acknowledge what he truly is.
As the story progresses Pinkies disdain for Rose mounts, despite her remaining oblivious to his feelings. He makes it clear he would love nothing more than to be rid of her and yet he makes the strange choice to keep her around. She becomes like a self imposed shackle around his ankle reminding him on a daily basis of his sin, similar in fashion to the ghost of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol. His sense of Catholic guilt is so great that it’s not enough for him to accept his punishment in the afterlife; he wants to suffer on a daily basis in this life too.
Helen Mirren plays Rose’s boss Ida in the film. She is the tough manageress of the café where Rose is employed. I was immediately impressed by Ida as the first time the audience is introduced to her character we are shown what she is made of as she holds her own against Pinkie’s threatening outburst in her café. Unfortunately Ida’s positive contribution to the film is depleted shortly after that. Her need to see Pinkie brought to justice for what she believes he did only served to bring an element of Columbo-esque meddling in proceedings, which is a shame considering her past success in Prime Suspect.
Andy Serkis on the other hand (who plays stately criminal Colleoni) was only on screen for a short while but gives one hell of a performance in that time. He says very little but I found myself almost forgetting to breathe as he held my attention so completely. I’d had high hopes for Andrea Riseborough as Rose due to the praise being heaped on her during this film’s release. Unfortunately I was sorely disappointed as her performance was intensely irritating and despite Pinkie being a nasty piece of work (and Rose being a naive victim), I found my sympathies lying completely with him. Her pronunciation of his name left me cringing every time she said it.
I strongly suspect that the “big dramatic cliff scene” at the end did not have the desired effect, as I simply felt nothing more than as if I’d been watching a particularly intense episode of Coronation Street after my Sunday night tea. Also, as I mentioned before Rose refuses to see Pinkie’s truly dark persona which alienates you from her as you just can’t believe anyone could be that stupid. With that in mind I’m sure future viewers of Brighton Rock will find the very end just as frustrating as I did.
There are clear indicators throughout that Brighton Rock wants you to pay attention and take notice of it — the imposing score at the beginning of the movie, the successfully dark mise en scà¨ne and the compelling performance by Sam Riley. However, this film is smoke and mirrors and it will definitely leave you feeling empty.