Brighton Rock

British crime drama tells the story of a juvenile sociopath who seduces a naive waitress who can link him to a murder. Pinkie is an adolescent gangster in Brighton, England whose mob-boss mentor and father figure is semi-accidentally killed by Hale, the enforcer of a rival gang. Pinkie goes to take revenge on the culprit. But before Hale is done away with, a seaside photographer captures an incriminating snapshot of one of Pinkie’s accomplices, Hale the victim, and Rose an innocent bystander, at the pier. Now Pinkie must cozy up to the girl to get her claim ticket for the photo that would connect Hale’s subsequent death to him.

Based on a Graham Green novel, the drama was previously made into a British adaptation back in 1947. But where the novel and original were both set in 1939, this modern re-telling has been updated to 1964. The re-imagining adds to the narrative immensely. There’s a certain stylishness to 1960s era England amidst the clashing Mods and Rockers that’s very appealing. These are hoodlums, but they wear natty suits and ride Italian scooters. It all kind of suggests the British New Wave, a neo-noir thriller if you will.

At the center of the plot is the relationship between Pinkie and Rose. Pinkie Brown is played by Sam Riley. With his angular features and black hair he sort of physically suggests a young Kyle MacLachlan. The 30 year old actor is actually playing a teenager here. It’s a bit of a stretch, but his performance is magnetic enough to carry the suspension of disbelief. The object of his affection is Rose, played by actress Andrea Riseborough, a meek waitress who works in a tea shop. While it’s a portrayal that courts sympathy, I found her to be a most frustrating character. At first her naïveté and social awkwardness was endearing, but then it becomes incomprehensible. She is head over heels in love with a man who shows her little respect. Pinkie’s surliness is relentless. You’ll wonder what she sees in the reprehensible fellow. There is one particularly chilling scene where she implores the gangster youth to pledge his love for her on a vinyl recording. The scene is an eye opener to say the least.

Brighton Rock is highlighted by an expressionistic style that uses shadows, rain and religious iconography to set the mood. These stylish visual flourishes are further complemented by a musical score by award-winning composer Martin Phipps. At once ominous and beautiful, it’s reminiscent of the sumptuous music of a classic 1940s film noir. It’s decidedly old fashioned and I enjoyed how the vocal cues complemented the action on screen. This is the feature debut for screenwriter Rowan Joffé who just happens to be the son of director Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields, The Mission). Talk about pressure. Brighton Rock is not the hard-hitting political story his father is known for, but he does have a way with setting a mood. The evocative music and poetic visuals help dress up a slight story that is still is an excellent character study. There is much to enjoy in this minor, but entertaining period drama.

P.S. For most of the picture I assumed the title referred to a geographical peninsula. It doesn’t, but I won’t spoil that little surprise here.

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4 Responses to “Brighton Rock”

  1. The thing that drew me to see this movie was Helen Mirren. She did not disappoint. She had some great lines in the movie and delivered them brilliantly. I agree with everything on your great review, but wanted to give Helen, some love.

  2. Hi Mark, glad to be connecting w/ you via Twitter. I’ve been curious about this one, I love British movies and this one has a great cast. I’ll have to move this up my queue.

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