If it’s not as ostentatiously awesome as Carol Reed’s take on The Third Man, the Boulting Brothers’ 1947 film version of Brighton Rock ranks second or third (after Reed’s The Fallen Idol) on the list of Graham Greene adaptations to beat—a gutter noir set, perversely, in the titular seaside town,with a surreally menacing turn from Richard Attenborough to boot. Alas, it remains unavailable in the states, meaning those without regionless disc players will have to settle for Rowan Joffe’s remake.
They could certainly do worse: Graphic knife wounds and a pointless time-jump to 1964 aside, this splashy retread is reasonably faithful not only to the book but the first film’s screenplay (by Greene and Terence Rattigan). It even retains the original movie’s “sanitized” ending, which in actuality is quite a lot darker than the one that concludes the book. And despite an opening that introduces him on a sympathetic level, the anti-hero called “Pinkie” (Sam Riley) remains an unlikable monster, seen pulling the appendages off a daddy longlegs and blithely capable of murder and more long-lasting offenses.
After sloppily avenging the murder of his small gang’s leader, Pinkie finds himself having to clean up the mess, namely romancing witness Rose (Andrea Riseborough), a gullible waitress, into never squawking. A dim bulb, Rose is flattered by the attention, despite the gash across her beloved’s face, but Pinkie can barely conceal his irritation at her very being. As this darkly amusing anti-romance plays out, uppity local Ida (Helen Mirren) takes it on herself to prove Pinkie’s guilt.
Attenborough’s baby-faced Pinkie was a mesmerizing blank, his frozen expression hiding a well-suppressed vulnerability. Riley, best known for his fragile Ian Curtis in Control, has similar childish features, but has trouble getting comfortable in the role. He’s not hypnotic like Attenborough, just relentlessly unpleasant. The same could be said of Joffe’s film. Where the original managed multiple tones, balancing the fun of a seaside town with the bleakness of its underworld, this Brighton Rock manages only the latter. As a director Joffe manages one memorable moment—an entertainingly shocking transition early on—but is otherwise unable to give a reason why his film should exist when a previous edition did the same material just fine.
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