Thursday, April 7, 2011

Brighton Rock: Trying Too Hard

Brighton Rock has lots going for it: a Graham Greene classic; iconic locations; a social turning point; clashes of generations and sub-cultures; tragic love; and crime. Not to forget that it is also the era of the Second Vatican Council, with its attempt to modernise Catholicism.

Plus a stellar cast.

The original film, based on Greene’s 1938 novel, was made in 1947 the year I was born. This remake is set in 1964, my last year at school, a truly memorable one. At the time the Beatles are kings, angry youth in England side violently with the waning rockers or the trendy mods. At the same time the old local gangs face extinction by sophisticated, national criminal organisations. Both literally and figuratively, guns are replacing flick knives as the weapon of choice.

Young Pinkie (Sam Riley) is an old style psychopath. His idea of romance is to pull the legs off a spider like proverbial daisy petals. The seventeen year-old girl is in fact named Rose (Andrea Riseborough) and her romantic notions are quite the opposite. It’s a case of guile versus guileless. Riley and Riseborough both give excellent performances, though they often seem too controlled with emotions switching on and off.

Both characters have an Old Testament hell-fire view of Catholicism that is not adequately explored. It is just one of the many themes and sub-plots that compete for our attention. This adaptation tries to do too much.

The official website claims that it ‘embraces the classic elements of film noir and the British gangster film’. At times director Rowan Joffe’s style is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930s English crime movies or his 50s crime thrillers. However, he doesn’t quite hit the mark. Despite seductive sets and stunning scenery the look of this film is more 1950 than fifteen years later. Perhaps the changed timeframe was a mistake. This adaptation is trying to do too much.

The supporting cast are faultless: Helen Mirren as the relentless Ida; John Hurt as her admirer Phil Corkery; and Phil Davis as washed-out crim Spicer. Yet somehow most of them just don’t seem comfortable in this environment, not even the very typecast Davis. Godfather Colleoni (Andy Serkis) also seems an anachronism.

Perhaps the changed timeframe was a mistake. Brighton Rock revisited is a quality production but writer/director Joffe just tries too hard for this movie to become a classic.

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