Here is my latest review for The405, of the new Rowan Joffe film, adapted from the Graham Greene Novel.
When I think of any characters called Rose on the silver screen, they always strike me as exceptionally drippy. Brighton Rock is no different, except this female lead gushes more than a Victorian sewer. It’s impossible to watch a beautifully innocent and deeply religious young girl fall hard for a wannabe gangster who’s as charming as his flick-knife, without questioning the almost absurd plot line. It’s enough to make a bad namesake.
Brighton Rock is based on the 1938 Graham Greene novel of the same name, but this version is set in 1964 against the backdrop of the Brighton youth riots. It tells the unlikely love story of Pinkie (Sam Riley), a self-appointed gang leader, and a waitress and awkward wallflower Rose (Andrea Riseborough). When Pinkie murders a rival gang member in cold blood, Rose is a potential witness to the crime. The pair grow close as Pinkie tries to extract the information he needs from her, but spins her further into a web of trouble. Rose’s boss Ida (Helen Mirren), seeking justice for her departed friend, becomes aware of Rose’s involvement with Pinkie and her apparent alibi for him. The more Ida tries to warn Rose about the danger she is in, the more Rose wants to protect her love. But would Pinkie do the same for Rose, or is he just using her?
From the perspective of a recent Brighton resident, the film is a delight visually. Brighton – although most of the filming was completed in Eastbourne – is stuck in a timewarp with retro costumes and furnishings in familiar locations. The cinematography has a hipstamatic feel, with smart editing between some scenes in the first half of the film.
For all the film’s beauty, I did find it quite difficult to connect with the leads. A wooden Riley plays Pinkie as impulsive and untrusting. In contrast, the fantastic Gainsborough is fiercely loyal, but stupidly naive. As the film progresses you are encouraged to despise the anti-hero Pinkie because of his treachery, but love Rose as she blossoms from a dowdy awkward girl into a beautiful woman with an independent mind. Both characters desperately need the depth given through back stories much earlier in the film for the audience to empathise with them. For a directorial debut it is a good effort, but even the supporting cast have hammed up their performances to make up for the apparent lack of direction.
Like a stick of seaside rock, I was hoping the more the film exposed, the softer it would be at its core. But the more I digested the more I found myself not caring, except for the final gratifying mouthful.