Brighton Rock

Director: Rowan Joffe
Starring: Helen Mirren, John Hurt, Sam Riley
Run time: 111 mins
Rating: **

This film is showing in York at City Screen. Click here for more information.

This month has seen the release of the much anticipated remake of the Graham Greene novel adaptation, Brighton Rock. Greene’s tale of violence and love in late 1930s Brighton is here retold in a swinging sixties setting, showcasing such British talent as Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot unfortunately. But let’s not be wholly negative. Let’s momentarily focus on some positives. This film contains some truly beautiful images and segments. The opening seconds depict visually stunning, tempestuous waves rolling into Brighton, an ominous aesthetic which foreshadows the drama of the film. The use of chiaroscuro lighting with barren lightbulb adorned rooms and dimly-lit telephone boxes accompanies an early twentieth century style orchestral score, paying homage to the film’s Noir routes. Meanwhile, Rowan Joffe playfully juxtaposes banal sea-side shots with those portraying violent murder, creating an atmosphere of constant unease.

That being said, the major downfall of the film is that, fundamentally, a considerable portion of it is laughable. This facet of Brighton Rock is due almost entirely to the protagonist. This perpetually brooding “Pinkie” is never without an irritatingly, faux-dramatic, angry expression adorning his face, completing the tableau with the never-ending collar popping. It’s Pinkie’s dialogue which catapults the character into the realms of the ridiculous. Statements like “You’re good. And I’m bad. We’re made for each other” crop up in almost every scene causing an auditorium-wide cringe. He manages to snag “Rose”, the supposed heroine of the film, with a line which amounts to “I like you; how about we go to the pictures?” Rose is annoying pathetic and is never without a slightly askew pair of awkward glasses and a quivering lip, allowing zero spectatorial sympathy. What is more, their relationship is conveniently skirted over, making her ignore all the blatant warning signs, in order to support a vicious murderer. Such convenient skirting over also occurs with Pinkie’s character. Brighton Rock begins by showing the anaemic little Pete Doherty as a green, cowardly novice who is unable to use his knife. Ten minutes later he is seemingly a cold blooded killer. It is these jumps in logic which act as a boundary to genuine narrative and character involvement.

An important element of this film is, of course, the creative decision to re-cast the story in the sixties. On paper this sounds interesting, as long as it is relevant and in some way evolves or augments the plot. It does not. After the first very Noir half an hour it is as if Joffe suddenly thought “Oh maybe we should make it sixties”, inserting superfluous, irrelevant, sustained Vespa parade shots which add nothing to the action. Then, every ten minutes or so, we will get random close-ups of women with sixties hair cuts, and reaching its climax with an utterly pointless scene showing Rose investing in some sixties garb. Then back to the film again. The dubious reason for such an epochal choice seems to be an attempt to stage the story against the backdrop of a battle of the young and the old. Once again, this fails.

The final nail in the film’s coffin is a bizarrely out-of-nowhere, Christian didactic ending. A final close-up of a crucifix shouts at the audience “GOD IS LOVE”, plastering onto the celluloid a flimsy thematic summary of the film as a whole. Fleeting moments of aesthetic sumptuousness unfortunately fail to remedy this film’s profound faults.

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