Tuesday 8 February 2011

Review: Brighton Rock

Year: 2010 (U.K Release 2011)
Director: Rowan Joffe
Screenplay: Rowan Joffe
Starring: Sam Riley, Helen Mirren, John Hurt

The Synopsis is here:

I haven't read the book (drat) nor seen the original 1947 film (double drat) but considering the critical hubbab that is surrounding Brighton Rock (the tweets I read from some Brit critics weren't great), I found myself enjoying most of it. It's a gangster movie that remains dark to it's core and for the most part has no qualms with muddying it's feet in the murky waters it wades in. It's clearly obvious that book lovers would start shoveling pages of the novel down my throat at the mere hint that I enjoyed this remake/adaptation. However like I always state if it can get my interested in the source then it can't be all bad.

For the most part it's not. The atmosphere is plastered on thick and quickly in this adaptation with opening shots of dark crashing waves and a blaring horns (seriously. Inception, Shutter Island and this? what's with the horns?). The tone is set up quickly as it's opening scenes do as much as they can to unsettle. It's clearly important to Joffe that it's shadows and drained colours do much to seduce us as we need them to help us believe that Sam Riley's babyface hides the mind of a cold blooded sociopath.This is difficult because in order to show his dark nature, Riley resorts to nodding his head down slightly and looking up evilly. At first this is slightly distracting and the bastard inside me just wanted to scream "DUN DUN DUN!" at the screen for my own amusement (and the frustration of everyone else) but I repressed my urges and found that when Riley's Pinkie works best when he shows fear. When Pinkie is truly threatened and becomes the sniveling toerag he truly is the film picks up a lot more. It doesn't happen often, which is a shame, but with this said Riley is watchable enough in many of the scenes. It helps that the bright eyed, Andrea Riseborough is the right balance of vulnerability and nativity. Riley's tough guy act bounces off well against her fragile performance. I also had alot of time for John Hurt and Helen Mirren, but this mostly because it's John Hurt and Helen Mirren.

Coming off writing the moody screenplay for The American, Joffe brings about some interesting moments, including a rabble rousing sequence involving riled up mods and rockers and vespers that had me raise an eyebrow. In fact it's tricky for me to see why so many people had an issue with the era update (moved from post WWII to the last year of capital punishment in the sixties) without seeing the original feature/reading the book. Pinkie is a model of rebellious youth who doesn't want to hang for his actions but will do all that he can to avoid punishment. The combination of this with the rising moral panics involving teens at the time, help illustrate the conflicting issue that we have here at our point now in society. A situation where we feel teens are so fearless that even the harshest punishment won't stop them. Brighton Rock felt a lot more effective with this aspect than the Daily Mail baiting claptrap that was Harry Brown, a film which reveled in stereotypical nonsense. However, I must agree that the religious are less effective. It's hard to believe Pinkie is as catholic as he is against this background.

Also despite the films well depicted setting of Brighton as a dingy, and foreboding place, for some reason the film overall has a very televisual feel. Moments feel a tad too flat and don't bring about the cinematic scope a film like this could have. Brighton Rock is effectively gritty however, the characters and their motives are sometimes darker than pitch, and their complexities still flow through the material enough to make the film (particularly the latter moments) an engaging enough watch. An adult film with an interesting viewpoint, Brighton Rock probably won't overshadow the original film, nor the book. However, until the time comes for me to watch/read those earlier works this will do fine.