Review by Rob Carnevale
ROWAN Joffe’s remake of Brighton Rock has been deemed by many to be a folly that should never have been indulged, particularly given the reverence with which the 1947 original, starring Richard Attenborough, is held.
It has also re-opened the debate surrounding the whole current remake culture and the need to revisit classics.
In my opinion, however, Joffe’s debut feature film is a deeply impressive and wholly worthwhile venture that – much like the Coen brothers forthcoming remake of Western classic True Grit – goes back to the source material for inspiration, rather than seeking to compete with or better the original movie.
In style, look, design and his ability to draw fantastic performances, Joffe’s film is a mesmerising piece of cinema that heralds the arrival of a major new talent. And while this opinion is likely to draw disapproving ‘tuts’ from those that think they know better, it comes from someone who (perhaps) is more likely to count themselves among the audience Joffe was looking for (ie, someone who has not seen the original, which was shot generations ago).
This is, after all, a remake of a film that’s come over 60 years since its predecessor and which merely serves to underline the strength of author Graham Greene’s source material, while providing a new showcase for young and established British acting talent.
The plot essentially remains the same, albeit updated to mid-1960s Brighton (circa Mods versus Rockers era violence) and with a greater emphasis on providing stronger women characters. The film’s central villain is also nastier and possibly more conflicted too.
When his boss and mentor is killed, unstable teenager Pinkie (Sam Riley) embarks on a bloody course of revenge that sees him rise through the ranks of Brighton’s organised crime.
The one potential obstacle, however, is sweet-natured waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough), who has inadvertently become privy to evidence that could implicate Pinkie in a murder.
As Pinkie embarks on a relationship with Rose, however, she must decide what his motives are and how much danger she is in, while her boss Ida (Helen Mirren) attempts desperately to intervene.
Admittedly, there are those who may struggle to be convinced by the relationship between Rose and Pinkie, especially in the way that she appears to fall so hard for him despite his psychotic tendencies.
But Riseborough proves herself adept at marrying elements of naivety and innocence with a burning desire to use Pinkie as a means to improving her own circumstance. Riley, meanwhile, is excellent at channelling the deep-rooted psychopathic elements of his character with an uncertainty inherent in a young and impressionable man.
He is a villain, and a highly dislikeable one at that, but you can sometimes see the inner struggle tearing him apart, particularly when he uses religion as a device to get Rose to succumb to his grand plan.
As we’ve come to expect, Mirren also provides sterling support as the fiery red-head Ida, while the likes of John Hurt, Andy Serkis and Phil Davis also contribute memorably.
Joffe, meanwhile, builds the simmering tension nicely, using Brighton and its surrounding locations to striking effect (his use of waves throughout is particularly notable) and drawing on the ‘60s era and its changing attitudes well.
He also enables his stars to shine, while retaining the dark and morally ambiguous elements of Greene’s novel to shine as well as imbuing his own distinct filmmaking signature on proceedings.
The results, as I’ve stated, are highly impressive… downbeat, yes, but gripping and involving to boot. Joffe, in particular, looks set to become another of Britain’s hugely talented filmmakers, whose career now deserves to go into overdrive.
Running time: 111mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 20, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Rowan Joffe interview
- Brighton Rock Photo Gallery