Brighton Rock

Director    Rowan Joffe
Starring    Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt, Andy Serkis, Sean Harris
Release    4 FEB (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars


2nd February 2011

There has to be a very good reason for taking on an adaptation of a beloved book or remaking a classic film - the Coen Brothers doing True Grit makes perfect sense - but I can't fathom the reason for Rowan Joffe reviving Brighton Rock. By any measure it's going to come off badly when compared to Graham Greene's novel or John Boulting's 1947 film. But let's shelve the comparisons for a couple of paragraphs.

Sam Riley plays Pinkie, an amusingly feminine name for a fucking nutcase. He's an ambitious young gangster, smarter and more ruthless than his superiors, keen to prove himself and fast-track through the ranks. But Pinkie messes up, he doesn't cover his tracks carefully enough and proof of his misdemeanours fall into the hands of Rose (Andrea Riseborough), an almost implausibly na´ve waitress. Well shit, that's a conundrum. Instead of taking the easy option and pushing her off Brighton pier, Pinkie seduces her good and proper to keep her quiet. Sorted!

But oh no! What's that big fat fly in the ointment? It's only Dame Helen Mirren - what the heck's she up to? DHM plays been-there-done-that Ida, and like a saucy Miss Marple, she's on Pinkie's case. With the help of her trusty sidekick John Hurt (seriously), she tries to warn Rose that men are bastards, but to no avail. Rose is smitten. And quite stupid. They're clearly not going to live happily ever after.

"Kiss me, you stupid bitch."

Brighton Rock 2011 features some knife slashing, gun-toting and cliff-top scenes of mild peril to notch up the drama, but it never really conjures up the noir-tinged menace of the original film. This is in no way the fault of Sam Riley, who makes a terrifically unhinged anti-hero - depraved, monstrous and tormented. He commands the same intensity he brought to his performance as Ian Curtis in Control, but he channels it in a completely different way.

However, Pinkie's anguish and the weight of Catholic guilt on his soul are never fully captured. Andrea Riseborough manages to make a fairly kickable character palatable and she thoroughly deserves all the 'one to watch' hype she's attracting. Dame Helen meanwhile is a bit too regal these days to make Ida rough enough around the edges, but her name on the poster guarantees an audience for this film. Andy Serkis pops up as the flamboyant top dog gangster, hamming it up so much it's tempting to shout "boo, hiss" or "it's behind you!" at the screen. And does anyone know why John Hurt signed up to this film? No, me neither.

Joffe is no stranger to turning out a decent screenplay, having done so for The American. Perhaps in anticipation of the unflattering comparisons between his film and Boulting's, Joffe insists his film is a fresh adaptation of the novel, not a remake of the film. Without wishing to drop a clanging spoiler, Joffe is talking horseshit because the ending of his film is the same as the ending in the 1947 film, not Greene's book.

The thing that marks the new Brighton Rock out from the 1947 original is the transference of the action from the '30s to the '60s amid the clashes between mods and rockers. Unfortunately, it feels like the 2011 Rock is constantly yelling LOOK AT THIS DOILY in the face of Mad Men fetishists. It crosses the line from 'period detail' to 'fancy dress party', never more so than when Pinkie heads up a procession of mopeds along the seafront. Knock it off Joffe - step away from the dressing up box.

"Don't look now, but I think we're being followed."

So all in all, it doesn't quite scrape a third star. If you're unfamiliar with the story of Brighton Rock, this isn't the place to start. Watch Richard Attenborough in the 1947 version instead. Look, I even found it on LoveFilm for you. Go click.

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