‘Brighton Rock’ Remake Fails to Justify its Existence

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Rowan Joffe’s long-gestating remake of “Brighton Rock” (the 1947 noir classic was based on the beloved book by Graham Greene) raises the question least-desired in one of these situations – why bother? Sure, the story is a nifty little tale of a rising criminal undone by his own avarice and the love of a girl and the cast assembled for the remake is an undeniably talented ensemble. That said, the piece is lacking the urgency that makes the viewer feel like it needed to be made in the first place. It’s a hollow film, concerned more with detail than emotion or character and so it comes off more like a filmmaking exercise than an engaging story, and it never justifies its existence.

One of the most unusual elements of the “Brighton Rock” remake is an update to a new time period – one that had yet to come when the source material and original film were produced. Moving the action of the piece to the ‘60s could have created a new energy to the story, especially given the cultural and social revolution at the time, but it feels cosmetic, like so many elements of the film. Joffe hasn’t updated the material successfully, merely transplanted it.

Brighton Rock
Brighton Rock
Photo credit: IFC Films

Said story still centers around a rising thug named Pinkie (Sam Riley of “Control”). You won’t forget his name since Rose (Andrea Riseborough), the girl who forever changes his life, says it repeatedly, typically in wide-eyed awe. “Brighton Rock” opens with the murder of one of the men in Pinkie’s gang. Retaliation is inevitable and the killer is hunted down on a crowded pier, where he runs into the naïve, awestruck waitress who will actually serve as a lynchpin in a Brighton turf war.

When a photographer snaps a photo of the waitress with the man that Pinkie is about to brain under the pier, the tough boys with switchblades realize that they need to keep her under control. And what better way to control a dame than to have her fall in love? Lucky for them, any attention at all from the dreamy Pinkie and this cookie crumbles. But as she falls deeper in love with him, he falls in love with the impending and growing power struggle. Can he keep all of his plates spinning or at least determine the order in which they’ll come crashing to the ground?

Joffe never decided what movie he wanted to make. “Brighton Rock” is remarkably inconsistent in character, tone, and even plot. Subplots flitter in and out, many of them involving great actors including John Hurt, Helen Mirren, and Andy Serkis. Characters that feel like they will be major are introduced only to disappear. And the overall tone of the piece lacks the urgency needed for a film like this to work. “Brighton Rock” should be the story of a man caught in a hole by a random event who ends up digging himself deeper and deeper into the Earth as he tries to correct the situation. Instead, it feels like an exercise in style, a story that exists only in the world of film.

Brighton Rock
Brighton Rock
Photo credit: IFC Films

Joffe makes some bad decisions, but Riley’s distant protagonist doesn’t help. It’s perfectly acceptable to play Pinkie like a cold, calculated future crime lord but Joffe and Riley seem more interested in his sullen posing than any sort of actual character development. The cool detachment that Riley brought to “Control” made him a solid fit for that story of a musical icon who no one ever really knew, but it doesn’t work for this material. He’s too confident, too calculated, and too cold. Riseborough also plays up the surface-level elements of her character, naively falling into her new lover’s traps until the final act when “Brighton Rock” becomes truly frustrating. Elements of the changing role of the female in ‘60s England start to filter their way into the film but, like everything else, they’re underdeveloped and the climax is unsatisfactory.

“Brighton Rock” contains some memorable imagery and that saves it from being completely tedious. And more ensembles could use flavoring from actors as talented as Mirren and Hurt. There are elements of the film that work. They’re just never gelled together into something that answers the key question that should be the first one answered by any filmmaker considering a remake – why?

“Brighton Rock” stars Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt, Philip Davis, Nonso Anozie, and Andy Serkis. It was written and directed by Rowan Joffe. It was released in Chicago on August 26th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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