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'Brighton Rock' Movie Review

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating


Andrea Riseborough and Sam Riley in Brighton Rock

Andrea Riseborough and Sam Riley in 'Brighton Rock'

© IFC Films
Screenwriter Rowan Joffe makes his directorial debut with the thrillerBrighton Rock, based on the 1938 novel by Graham Greene. Joffe chose to update the novel a bit, setting the story in 1964 when leather-jacketed Mods and Rockers on scooters clashed in violent riots at England's Brighton boardwalk. He's captured the era well and Brighton Rock looks gorgeous, however Joffe's screenplay is littered with one note characters that, despite the best efforts of the cast, fail to engage the audience.

The Story

Pinkie Brown's elevated to the position of gang leader following the murder of his mentor. However, he doesn't step into the position smoothly as the killing of a rival gang member, Fred Hale (Sean Harris), brings his small gang under the scrutiny of the police. In a bit of particularly bad timing, moments prior to the murder the victim had accosted a boardwalk waitress, Rose (Andrea Riseborough), before being dragged away by Pinkie's gang, and the encounter was immortalized in a snapshot taken by an employee of a souvenir store. Rose is the only one capable of tying Pinkie and his thugs to the murder, but instead of killing her - which the sadistic Pinkie is quite capable of doing - he seduces and ultimately marries the vulnerable - and gullible - virgin. Why? In Joffe's script, the reasoning is never made clear.

As the police net tightens, Pinkie turns to Colleoni (Andy Serkis), the leader of the most powerful mob in town to strike a deal. When that turns sour, only the naive Rose remains blindly devoted to the cold-blooded, stone-faced killer.

The Acting

Greene's novel was brought to life on the screen back in 1947 with Richard Attenborough as the sociopathic young gangster at the center of the story. Sam Riley, so terrific in the Ian Curtis biopic Control, tackles the role in Joffe's version, sneering his way through the film. But Riley's sneering and snarling doesn't take the character far enough, leaving viewers to wonder what's going on underneath and why anyone would follow this sadistic thug. There's a lack of depth in the way Pinkie's brought to life in Joffe's screenplay, and Riley is never allowed to do more than briefly touch on any emotion other than anger.

Helen Mirren can no doubt do justice to the character of a streetwise dame, and it's a shame she's been reined in here as Rose's boss who knows the score and seeks revenge for Fred's murder. The character's not allowed to go big, and a little less restraint would have been a welcome jolt of energy to the production. Andy Serkis shows up a few times as the suave mob boss of the gang Pinkie's wannabes both emulate and cower to. Serkis, most famous for his ability to bring characters to life via motion capture performances, is fine - although, once again, it's a completely one note character. The same goes for John Hurt as Phil Corkery, an old friend of Mirren's character who adds very little to the story.

The Bottom Line

Joffe aims high with his gangster noir effort, but falls short in all but the outstanding visuals. Joffe's staging of the third act squanders any tension he built up over the narrative and lets down not only the audience but his actors. Brighton Rock is frustrating in that it allows glimpses into a world that it refuses to fully embrace. It's too sleek, too controlled characters keep the audience at a distance making Brighton Rock an overall unsatisfying experience.


Brighton Rock was directed by Rowan Joffe.

Theatrical Release: August 19, 2011

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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