I like gangster movies. I like British movies. I should like like British gangster movies. And I do. They typically include less organized forms of crime than their American cousins, but they make up for it with charm and swearing. While the American films typically accept the power of gangsters in a corrupt society, British gangs don’t seem as able to maintain stability. There is no British version The Godfather (1972). They don’t do quiet, capable gangsters. If they have any real power, then they’re absolute lunatics.
Brighton Rock (2010) is about someone without any real power and is still an absolute lunatic.
Hale (Sean Harris) kills rival gang boss Kite (Geoff Bell), who is a major figure for young Pinkie (Sam Riley). What do they do? Spicer (Philip Davis) decides they’ll carve up young Hale to teach Colleoni (Andy Serkis)–yeah, I know, but the book came first, so it’s fair–a lesson. Things don’t go quite right and not only does Pinkie kill Hale, but Spicer gets in a holiday photo with Hale and the mousy Miss Rose (Andrea Riseborough). Got to get that photo back. So Pinkie takes Rose on a date and steals the ticket and retrieves the photo. The problem is that Ida (Helen Mirren), who employs Rose, was close with Hale and is looking into things and starts putting the pieces together. Blah blah blah, Rose loves Pinkie, Pinkie’s totally cracked out, broody broody broody.
This was not what I was expecting. Pinkie doesn’t really rise through the criminal ranks so much as half-lead a crew of…three, himself included, into nothing but disaster. They’re all two-bit hoods trying to pull some scratch together. Add to that this thing with Rosie where she’s always in danger, but falls into this abused-puppy routine. Why does it matter?
I had a similar problem with Public Enemies (2009). With gangster movies, you’ve got a couple of watchable elements: they’re famous (either in reality or in the story), they’re powerful, their actions have great repercussions, and they’ve got interesting internal conflicts. Public Enemies only had a famous person, who didn’t really appear to matter, and Brighton Rock didn’t even have that.
“Brighton Rock,” by the way, refers to a piece of candy you get in Brighton, which is a seaside tourist attraction in the UK. The non-urban scene adds to the “who cares?” vibe that I kept getting through the movie. But while the show Boardwalk Empire (2010-11) makes up for this by expanding the scope and cast, Brighton Rock focuses its energies on Pinkie and Rose.
The DVD suggests this is a gangster flick with film noir elements. Nah. This is a psycho movie with gangster characters. This isn’t a film noir because there is no deep investigation, no twist, no cheeky molls (unless you count Mirren, which you can’t), no heist, and absolutely no implications. If and when these characters die or their secrets get out, absolutely nothing happens. No scandal or trial of the century and I’m not terribly bothered if Pinkie doesn’t make it. That’s the difficulty in making a movie about the villain.
I suppose if you think film noir just means a movie that’s dark and moody, then this is one. I think my problem is that Pinkie is ready to kill Rose at any moment in this movie and that’s what passes for menacing. But that isn’t menacing because there’s nothing that sets him off, we’re just waiting for it to happen.
What is this movie about? Is it the crazy, the girl, the gang, or the would-be profound ending? The movie is about the crazy and the girl, the book is about the ending, and I expect the original 1947 film was about the gang. Here’s another question, why is John Hurt in this movie?
This film was written and directed by Rowan Joffe. Joffe is clearly a better director than he is a writer–that is of story rather than dialogue. The dialogue is fine. The direction is actually pretty good and makes things quite tense. But the story is just aimless. Or is it pointless?
Apparently, Joffe “fell in love” with the Rose character and wanted to bring that out in the movie. Maybe he should have made the movie from her perspective, then. The movie never gets close enough, and I mean literally, physically close, for us to look into Rose’s character. So, on the surface, it’s just a frightened woman who “loves” Pinkie because of some pretty simple reasons.
Either way, it’s worth missing. I’d try for the original if you’re interested in Graham Greene.