Brighton Rock

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“Young Scarface”. That’s what it was called in the U.S., the British noir classic “Brighton Rock” from 1947, directed by John Boulting and based on Graham Greene’s 1938 novel.

Unfortunately I haven’t seen that movie, which is said to be really good. Lord Richard Attenborough plays the lead as the young small-time gangster Pinkie, a rising force in the underworld of Brighton — and I understand that the movie is hardboiled, tough and very noir with lots of dark shadows.

This remake is the feature film debut of Rowan Joffe (Rolands’s son) after having directed a few TV movies. The teenage Pinkie is this time played by Sam Riley, who was Ian Curtis in “Control”.

Pinkie is a sociopath, he’s both religiously and emotionally confused, and in the opening scenes he witnesses a red-head thug (Sean Harris) from a rivalling, mightier gang killing a guy from Pinkie’s gang. Pinkie’s gang kills the red-head, but café owner Ida (Helen Mirren) suspects who’s behind the murder.


Teenager Rose (Andrea Riseborough) is working at Ida’s café, and not only is she uncomfortable with her job, and with Ida, she also hates life — and back at home she’s terrorized by her creep of a father. Accidentally, Rose meets Pinkie and although they’re very odd, they become a couple. An odd one. For some reason Rose falls in love with the gangster, at least she regards him as somebody who might radically change her life — while he doesn’t seem to have any feelings at all for her. On the contrary — he’s often talking about how much he hates her.  

This romance is of course doomed to perish in a spectacular way. Especially since Brighton’s mightiest gangster, Mr. Colleoni (Andy Serkis), is after Pinkie’s gang. And Pinkie is getting more and more insane.

I felt rather irresoluteafter the press screening of “Brighton Rock”. Reasonably, I should like this movie. I should like it quite a lot, actually. It has interesting locations, a classic story och a really great cast — besides Mirren and Serkis, we also get John Hurt and Phil Davis; the latter is one of those fantastic character actors whose face you recognize, but never remember the name of. Here he’s a gangster called Spicer.


But the movie doesn’t work. The gaps are too many, the film is unstable. Visually it alters between looking like a big-budget theatrical movie, and a cheap TV drama with static shots of people just sitting down and talking. The almost constant brooding, dramatic music, complete with a choir and stuff, almost becomes ridivulous.

But the biggest problem is probably Sam Riley. Riley turned 31 earlier this year, but is supposed to be a teenager — something I didn’t get until I later read it somewhere. He looks like Leonardo DiCaprio’s evil brother and his interpretation is as one-dimensional as it can get. He has one single facial expression throughout the movie, he’s extremely unlikable and it’s totally impossible to understand what Rose sees in this guy. Sure — she’s looking for excitement, something new. But Pinkie has absolutely no charm at all — he’s just an asshole. Rose is also a little mentally unstable, but I don’t buy this.


The story has for some reason been moved to 1964, which really has no function. Especially since it looks like it takes place in 1950. Suddenly there area couple of impressive scenes in which an enormous gang speeds around on scooters, followed by a gigantic battle between mods and rockers. But when I think about it, I can’t see what this has to do with the plot of the movie, more than causing a commotion that’s perfect if you want to commit murder unnoticed.

Sometimes the movie makes me think of Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”, maybe Joffe wanted to make something in that style, but he doesn’t really succeed. “Brighton Rock” would have worked better on DVD, on a smaller screen. When I look up some facts about the film, I notice that the criticism in the UK has been pretty scathing. We’re recommented to check out the version from ‘47 instead.

But Brighton is undeniably a fascinating place. I’ve never been there, but to a similar seaside resort in England. It’s picturesque, cute — and the weather is always lousy.

Images copyright © PAN Vision


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