TIFF Movie Review: Brighton Rock (2010)

Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough in Brighton Rock
Photo: Kudos Films

Brighton Rock is the debut feature of screenwriter Rowan Joffe (The American, 28 Weeks Later). Working from his own adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1939 novel, he’s updated the story of a half-wit gangster named Pinkie and his relationship with Rose, a dim-witted tea room waitress, to 1964. There’s a distinct attempt to focus on youth rebellion, but none of it rings true as the characters and their actions are so exaggerated it comes off as silly rather than dramatic or thought-provoking.

Pinkie (Control‘s Sam Riley) is 17-years-old when the head of his small gang is murdered causing a power struggle at the top resulting in Pinkie taking charge. However, when Pinkie kills the man that murdered his mentor, Rose (Andrea Risborough), a lowly waitress, can bring them all down due to an off chance photograph connecting Pinkie’s cohort in crime (Phil Davis) to the murder.

In an effort to clean up the mess, Pinkie seeks out Rose and instead of dispatching her, he fabricates feelings for the girl. At the same time, he castigates her while occasionally lifting her spirits with random acts of kindness. His motives are transparent to the viewing audience, but to an impressionable and naive 17-year-old girl he’s the man of her dreams. Their rocky relationship hits a snag when Rose’s boss Ida (Helen Mirren) takes an interest in Pinkie and, along with her friend (John Hurt), sets out to set things right.

Before I get too far I should mention I’ve never read Graham Greene’s novel so I don’t know if the exaggerated style of acting on display here is mimicking the book or if it is an attempt by Joffe to have his actors poorly mock old school James Cagney films. Either way, it doesn’t work and to read in the press notes Pinkie is considered “one of the greatest bad guys ever created” I’m almost taken aback. I’ll admit, this guy is nuts, but that’s about it.

For about the first ten minutes of the film Pinkie is seen as a timid thug unwilling to get his hands dirty, but suddenly a switch is flipped and he’s ready to begin bashing a guy’s head in. What gives? Next he’s talking a bunch of mumbo jumbo and you get the feeling all he needs is a good slap across the cheek and he’d be set straight. This isn’t to say Riley doesn’t play the part well. It’s more of a matter of the character not being developed properly and the script doesn’t offer up enough background information to let us know what this guy is about, let alone give the audience any information on how his gang is making any money and just what the point of all this nonsense is.

Other members of the cast include Andy Serkis (Gollum from Lord of the Rings) as Mr. Colleoni, Brighton’s man everyone answers to. When Serkis is first seen his appearance garnered a muffled chuckle from my audience, but Serkis works in the role. He’s got a wave-of-the-hand bit of panache about him. Unfortunately, Mirren phones it in and John Hurt hardly has enough time on screen to get a word in until the silly tacked-on ending, but I was already checking out by that time.

Where most eyes will be focused is on Andrea Riseborough, an up-and-coming actress with three films at the Toronto Film Festival this year including Brighton Rock and the upcoming releases Never Let Me Go and Made in Dagenham. As Rose I’m not ready to give Riseborough any kind of major endorsement, but she does her part as a woman ready to do anything for her man and the worse he treats her the more she loves him. If anything, I guess this is what you could say the movie is about, but it’s so uninteresting and uninvolving I just couldn’t care.

If you ask me, this film is a mess. I was able to make it through to the end, but I was ready to leave with more than 20 minutes to go. There’s absolutely no believability to this story and if it’s meant to be played over the top then I guess I just didn’t get it.