Brighton Rock
dir-scr Rowan Joffe
prd Paul Webster
with Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt, Andy Serkis, Phil Davis, Steven Robertson, Nonso Anozie, Sean Harris, Steve Evets, Adrian Schiller, John Warman
release UK 4.Feb.11
10/UK Optimum 1h51
Brighton Rock
We're in trouble: Riley and Riseborough

mirren hurt serkis
TORONTO FILM FEST london film fest
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Brighton Rock Repositioning Graham Greene's 1938 novel to 1964, screenwriter Joffe directs his first feature with a vivid visual flair. Although it's so dark and harsh that none of the characters are even remotely sympathetic.

Pinkie (Riley) is a young member of a Brighton gang that becomes rudderless when its leader is killed by rival mobster Colleoni (Serkis). Second in command Spicer (Davis) tries to take charge, but Pinkie starts escalating things, avenging his boss' death in a way that creates a violent tit-for-tat. He also becomes vulnerable to murder charges. As he romances a young witness (Riseborough) to make sure she doesn't say anything, he angers her boss (Mirren) as well as both Colleoni and his righthand man (Hurt).

We wouldn't mind the wobbly plot points (Rose didn't actually see anything) if we cared about the characters. Riley gives a solid performance but the too-cocky Pinkie never crosses from sneering villain to likeable antihero. He's such a nasty piece of work that we know he's heading for something horrible. And Riseborough's hapless Rose isn't much better. She may be the innocent in the story, but her blind devotion to Pinkie feels more like a tragic flaw than a sign of true love.

Around them swirls a selection of fine British acting talent at the top of their game, although only Serkis surprises us with something new, playing against type as a suave mob boss who thinks he's Frank Sinatra. Meanwhile, Joffe directs the film with a raw, jagged tone that's almost oppressively menacing right from the start. Martin Phipp's Herrmann-style score adds to Joffe's Hitchcock-style camera flourishes to build tension in every scene, although with all the light-grabbing flick-knives we keep expecting the actors to break into The Rumble from West Side Story.

That said, the 60s setting adds a nice visual touch, most notably during the mods vs rockers turf wars. But we never have a clue how Pinkie charms Rose; he's just a surly, stony-faced thug. So the way the script insists on a doomed connection between them feels melodramatic and contrived. All of the dialog is whispered, growled, purred or blurted to shake us up. With such ambitious direction, it's a shame that Joffe's film is so cold and heartless.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 6.Nov.10

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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall