Monday, August 29, 2011

Movie with Abe: Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock
Directed by Rowan Joffe
Released August 26, 2011

Gangster movies usually follow a general format. Often times, the central character is someone who is up and coming in the gangster world, not necessarily fully corrupted to the ways of evil yet, seeking sage advice from an elder player. There’s always a girl, and she may or may not be aware of just what it is her budding beau does for a living. Eventually, there’s betrayal and plenty of killing, and whether or not there’s a happy ending really depends on the individual story. “Brighton Rock” follows that format, but it’s a terribly gloomy and rather off-putting take.

This adaptation of the 1938 Graham Greene novel stars Sam Riley in the leading role of Pinkie Brown, a young man who takes regrettable action to avenge the death of his mentor and finds himself wrapped up in a world more complicated than he might have imagined. Pinkie is proud to be in that world, however, and seeks to make a name for himself, all the while stringing along a poor girl who was a witness to his crime. Rose, like many mob lovers, can’t believe that Pinkie would hurt a fly, and suffers considerable emotional abuse in the service of trying to please the supposed love of her life.

“Brighton Rock” is set in the 1960s in Brighton, England. While it can be categorized as a crime film or a thriller, it is best described as a film noir. There’s a considerable amount of darkness and intrigue to be found in the film, and it definitely has a mean streak running through it, especially when it comes to its protagonist. There seems to be an argument, however, between a serious portrayal of death and danger and a far more corny, melodramatic one, which comes into play every once in a while and brings the film’s credibility into question. It’s mainly the lack of balance of the two, and choosing one tone would have made for a much tighter and more compelling film.

There are few sympathetic characters in “Brighton Rock,” and those who are decently endearing barely have a part. Philip Davis’ aging gangster Spicer is perhaps the least detestable of the players, and also the most believable. Screen veterans Helen Mirren and John Hurt have underdeveloped parts, and lead actor Sam Riley spends so much time perfecting his snarl that he almost seems too purposefully evil. Andrea Riseborough delivers a fine breakout performance as the naïve Rose, and though her innocence is often irritating and even infuriating, it’s good to have someone pure of heart since the film is sorely missing any soul. In all, it’s a dark, miserable experience without a silver lining or any stylistic or cinematographic achievements to make it worthwhile.


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