Title: Brighton Rock
Director: Rowan Joffe
Starring: Sam Riley (‘Control’), Andrea Riseborough (‘Never Let Me Go’), Helen Mirren
Numerous movies have showcased teenage rebellion, but in modern times, many of these films are just produced to showcase the main characters having a good time. But the new IFC Films crime thriller ‘Brighton Rock,’ which is the second movie based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Graham Greene, presents the rebellion as a metaphor to life’s bigger problems. Not only does it show the characters going after what they want, the film also questions the moral implications of their actions in an intellectual way.
‘Brighton Rock’ follows the young, ambitious teenager gangster Pinkie (played by Sam Riley), who strives to make a name for himself in Britain’s sinister world of organized crime. After a naive local Brighton waitress, Rose (portrayed by Andrea Riseborough), stumbles upon evidence that Pinkie was involved in a revenge killing, he seduces her to keep his alibi alive and destroy the proof that he’s involved in the crime. Ida (played by Helen Mirren), who owns the restaurant where Rose works and was a friend of Fred Hale (played by Sean Harris), Pinkie’s victim, tries to convince Rose that Pinkie is only deceiving and using her and doesn’t really love her. While Ida and her friend Phil (portrayed by John Hurt) try to protect the young girl from the dangerous world Pinkie’s trying to pull her into, Rose remains adamant that he really loves her.
Those unfamiliar with the novel may be slightly confused by some of the characters and how they relate to each other. The film’s writer and helmer, Rowan Joffe, who is making his feature directorial debut with ‘Brighton Rock,’ doesn’t fully explain why Fred is in Brighton, and how he’s involved with Pinkie. In the novel, Fred betrays the boss of the gang Pinkie is working for, but that fact isn’t clearly made in the film adaptation. Joffe continuously enforces the fact that Pinkie felt Fred deserved to die; however, it’s difficult for the audience to feel sympathetic towards either character, as it’s never explained what crimes Fred committed.
While Joffe stumbled in explaining the actions that lead to Pinkie’s rash decision to kill Fred, the director made a lasting impression in other areas of ‘Brighton Rock’ that made up for the unfortunate error. While Greene set the novel in the then-contemporary time of the 1930s, Joffe rightfully updated the story somewhat to 1964, but didn’t make it too modern. One of the major aspects of the story’s believability is Rose’s innocence, which is almost non-existent in today’s world. One of the reasons Rose is so sheltered from the world is that she doesn’t have the modern technology, like computers and DVRs, that routinely influence teens and young adults today.
Setting ‘Brighton Rock’ in the mid-1960s was an interesting and effective decision on Joffe’s end. Pinkie’s continuous rebellion and illegal acts definitely fit well in that time of British history, as British teenagers were first starting to question economics and culture. The ’60s belonged to the gangsters who took control of everyday life, and teens willingly followed them to get what they wanted.
Joffe also made the right decision in including the characters’ questioning of Catholicism and their faith. Their religious doubts were a major motivating factor in the story. For example, Pinkie had no problem committing evil or sinning to get what he needed or wanted, including killing Fred and marrying Rose just to prevent her from testifying against him. But he questions continuing doing these evil things, as he’s afraid of eternal damnation after he dies.
Riley was a perfect choice to cast in the role of Pinkie. The young actor has said he was anxious to take on the role that Richard Attenborough originated in the first adaptation of the novel, the 1947 film of the same name directed by John Boulting. But he successfully made the iconic role his own, and didn’t mimic Attenborough. Riley’s good looks and charm made his connection with his character and Riseborough seem natural. At the same time, Pinkie’s edge and manipulative side will easily make viewers question why Rose is in love with him.
Joffe made a respectable directorial debut with his adaptation of ‘Brighton Rock,’ as he skillfully incorporated the most important aspects of the story into the film. He also made the right decision in hiring Riley to portray the lead character, and proved he wasn’t afraid to question people’s core religious values. However, ‘Brighton Rock’ would be more appealing to a wider range of viewers if Joffe focused more on explaining the motivation of Pinkie killing Fred, which was the major conflict and driving force in the film.
Written by: Karen Benardello