Brighton Rock is a British film noir that’s currently both playing in limited release and which is also available via video-on-demand. Based on a novel by Graham Greene, Brighton Rock is the story of Pinkie (Sam Riley), a sociopathic gangster who murders a gambler. The chase leading up to the murder is witnessed by a mousey waitress named Rose (Andrea Riseborough) who doesn’t realize what she’s actually seen. In order to keep her quiet, Pinkie marries Rose. Rose, however, works for Ida (Helen Mirren) and Ida just happens to have been friends with the murdered gangster. Realizing that Rose is in danger, Ida takes it upon herself to expose Pinkie for the murderer he is.
Brighton Rock is a visually striking film and it has a handful of good performances but it never quite comes together. Before making his feature film directing debut here, Rowan Joffe wrote the script for last year’s The American and, much like The American, Brighton Rock has an abundance of style and is full of references to the classic crime films of the 60s and 70s. Also, much like The American, the style — too often — seems to exist separately from any larger vision. As a result, the film ultimately feels like several disconnected — if pretty scenes — strung together by convenience. The film has an intriguing-enough plot but the narrative lacks any sort of forward momentum. Interestingly enough, Greene used the story of Pinkie, Rose, and Ida to examine larger theological issues within the Catholic church. With the exception of a scene where Pinkie prays, an over-the-top sequence featuring a judgmental nun, and a few inserts of crucifixes artfully hanging on grimy walls, Joffe pretty much jettisons the story’s religious angle but without it, Pinkie and Rose’s actions make a lot less sense.
Joffe’s decision to cast Sam Riley, whom I’ve had a crush on ever since I first saw Control, in the lead role of Pinkie is problematic. It’s not that Riley gives a bad performance because he doesn’t. He makes a convincing psychopath and if he’s never quite charming enough to be a true anti-hero, he’s still makes Pinkie into a compelling figure. Unfortunately, Riley is still totally miscast in the film. In Graham Greene’s original novel, Pinkie was only 17 years old. Sam Riley is 31 and looks even older. Unfortunately, all of the other characters in the film continually refer to him as “the kid.” John Hurt, at one point, gives a monologue in which he wonders how someone so young could be so evil. But Riley isn’t young and as a result, I found myself wondering just how old someone had to be before they were considered to be an adult in 1960s England.
Still, if nothing else, Joffe gets some good performances from his supporting cast. Andrea Riseborough manages to be both poignant and annoying as Rose while Andy Serkis appears to be having a lot of fun playing a slightly ludicrous gangster. Not surprisingly, Helen Mirren commands every scene she appears in and she and John Hurt have got a great chemistry. Regardless of how you might feel about the film as whole, it’s impossible not to enjoy their scenes together. They’re final scene together made me squeal with delight and, in the end, that has to count for something.