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Brighton Rock (2011) Review


A new adaptation of a British literary classic emerges with panache from the shadow of the 1947 version...

Brighton Rock (2011)

Screenwriter Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, The American) brings Graham Greene's infamous anti-hero to a modern audience with his first direction for the big screen in a gritty remake of literary classic Brighton Rock.

Mobster “runner” Pinkie (Sam Riley) sees his boss and father-figure murdered by another mob member and seeks revenge. Cold-bloodedly pounding “Fred” with a rock, Pinkie's “victory” is jeopardised by the presence of a witness and a photograph that can link his gang to the killing. Unable to trust anyone, Pinkie must ensure his safety by destroying this evidence and befriending or killing the witness - young cafe worker Rose (Andrea Riseborough).

Initially full of nerve, but lacking the guts to act, Pinkie grows in confidence after killing Fred and arrogantly aspires to become the new mob boss, planning on 'retiring' Spicer.

He'll stop at nothing, boldly bragging “I'm not even started yet” to rival mob boss Colleoni (Andy Serkis). But unfortunately for Pinkie, Fred's faithful friend Ida (Helen Mirren) seeks her own vengeance and is determined to see his killer brought to justice.

With a violent father, Rose craves love and is easily lured in by Pinkie's lies, blinded by misjudged devotion and entrapped by her admittance: “I never forget a face”. Scenes between Rose and Pinkie are wrought with tragi-comic moments. Merely a kid himself, Pinkie woos Rose by suggesting she's just his type - an “old-fashioned friendly” girl. Disgusted by the surrounding couples during their first date and trying to force himself to show affection, Pinkie's facial expressions are full of revulsion as he leers and pulls pre-vomit faces like a primary school boy forced to sit next to a female classmate. When he does ask serious questions of her, he tries to detract from this by pinching her. A fantastic scene again shows his emotional immaturity, as Pinkie uses a spider like a forget-me-not, muttering “she loves me, she loves me not”.

Despite Pinkie's obvious immaturity, as a Catholic - like Rose - he's aware of his sins, dreaming of hanging for them. Joffe captures the complexity of Pinkie's character by expertly interspersing almost tender scenes with Rose with brutal shots of Pinkie repeatedly shooting the bullseye of a target or threatening her with sulphuric acid. Knowing Rose is a true innocent, Pinkie's attempts to barter with her father and the recording he makes for her are both made all the more heartbreaking to watch.

With opening music very similar to that of Inception, a bloody beginning sets us up for plenty of swearing and flick-knives. Brighton Rock is full of grimy dark settings, reflecting the moral stance of the protagonist and time. Predominantly based in Brighton, the sea, pier and power of the waves are symbolic features, clearly foreshadowing later events. Houses are run-down, smeared in dirt and covered in graffiti with flickering lights and crumbling interiors.

The Brighton Youth Riots are used as a backdrop to show the social unrest in Joffe's updated 1964 setting. The growth of gambling, the mob presence and the corrupt police working with them are explored through Colleoni. Punch and Judy shows and deckchairs remind us that amid all the violence, Brighton was once a traditional seaside holiday destination.

And perhaps most importantly, Joffe manages to capture the religious undertones subtly present throughout so many of Greene's works.

With fantastic chemistry between the leads, Brighton Rock reminds us how effective a simple story can be and is likely to  raise Riley's profile further after his previous stunning lead performance as Ian Curtis in Control. He masters the complexity of Pinkie's character, posing the age-old debate of whether he is truly evil or, like Rose, merely a misguided, corrupted youth with a misplaced ambition to become a mob boss. Although already boasting an impressive CV (Never Let Me Go, Made In Dagenham, Happy-Go-Lucky), Andrea Riseborough's stint as Rose might just be the lead role she needs finally to get her that much deserved recognition.

Gruesome from start to finish with a fantastic supporting cast, Joffe's Brighton Rock remains almost entirely faithful to the text and is just as thought-provoking.

4 stars

Director/writer: Rowan Joffe
Running Time:
111 mins
: Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt, Andy Serkis

Brighton Rock is released in the UK on the 4th of February 2011

Read Shadowlocked's review of the original film:

Brighton Rock (1947) DVD review


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