by George Sax
By the beautiful sea
“Those atheists got it all wrong,” a seventeen- or eighteen-year-old tells a girl he’s just met in Brighton Rock. “There’s a hell, there’s flames, damnation, and torments.” This isn’t exactly a confession of faith, although Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) may consider himself a “Roman.” He doesn’t attend church, and more to the point, he’s a criminally precocious enforcer for a small-time protection racket in Brighton, the English seaside resort. Yet, Pinkie tells this girl, Rose (Andrea Riseborough), the church “is all that makes sense.”
It’s hard to know if he really believes any of this. Rose obviously does, although her new relationship with Pinkie is going to test and defy her faith. She doesn’t know this yet, and she also doesn’t know that she’s sitting on a boardwalk bench with this boy because she’s unwittingly linked to a murder in which he’s mixed up. But this is Graham Greene literary and film territory, where moral uncertainty and ironical Catholic guilt settle on the scene like an English fog.
Brighton Rock is writer-director Rowan Joffe’s remake of John Boulting’s 1947 adaptation of Greene’s same-titled novel (for which he co-wrote the screenplay). Joffe’s version is more visually expansive and dynamic, and he’s moved its setting to the beginning of the 1960s, and added his own touches, but the source material is still plainly apparent. This Brighton Rock is a handsome, occasionally stunning, and very effective noir exercise. Joffe has opened up Greene’s story in more than one sense. His film has kinetically startling and gripping sequences. In one chase scene, on and under that boardwalk, Joffe and cinematographer John Mathieson execute an elongated, one-take U-turn of combined crane shot and panning that renders the action tensely involving and comprehensible. Joffe’s creation of menacing mood and ambiance is first-rate, whether he’s shooting glistening nighttime scenes of contrasting light and dark, or color-muted daytime streetscapes. And he’s expertly added surging crowd scenes that reflect the movie’s newer era.
He’s been less successful managing his reuse of Greene’s narrative. Toward the end, some of the action becomes more implausible, and the gang strife that sets the story going can be hard to follow. But the movie is never flat despite these lapses, and the cast is hard to ignore, so involving are their performances. At thirty one, Riley is six or seven years older than Richard Attenborough was as Pinkie in the first film, and it’s sometimes noticeable that he’s no teenager. But the actor brings his impersonation of a very youthful and dangerous predator off so well this doesn’t seem to matter. Rose is harder to get right, in large part because the girl seems as much a plot device as a character, but Riseborough’s playing shrinks some of this basic deficiency.
Helen Mirren brings her considerable skills and presence as Ida, Rose’s employer and would-be protector. Ida becomes part of a perilous triangulated relationship with the two youngsters as she seeks to bring Pinkie to justice for killing one of her friends. Playing another of Ida’s friends, John Hurt is sharply convincing as a small-time bookmaker caught in the middle of an increasing menace.
This Brighton Rock is a consistently exciting film experience for most of its length, and its nagging inadequacies aren’t likely to overcome your tense enjoyment of its pulsing successes.
Watch the trailer for Brighton Rock
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