Published on August 25th, 2011 | by Daniel Guzmán0
“Brighton Rock” opens August 26 (NY, LA)
Showing at Angelika Film Center
Running Time: 111 Minutes. Unrated.
In “Brighton Rock,” screenwriter Rowan Joffe’s debut feature, naive waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough) falls for handsome, yet cold-hearted mystery man Pinkie (Sam Riley). Turns out Pinkie is an ambitious teenage gangster, who seduces Rose in hopes of destroying photographic evidence that might link him to a revenge killing. Set in the seaside resort of Brighton, England, the film updates Graham Greene’s 1939 story to the Mods and Rockers riots of the 60s.
Helen Mirren and John Hurt join in the film noir tension to protect Rose from Pinkie’s machinations. And while they do a great job of classing up the joint, it’s the surprisingly excellent work of the young leads that truly bears mention. After witnessing the murder of his mob mentor, Pinkie agrees to take part in a little payback against the man who delivered the fatal wound, but freezes up in the moment of truth. However, like all ambitious youth, Pinkie goes for overkill (literally) when given a second chance, forsaking the silly little mob-approved knife and going caveman-style on the man’s face with a rock.
During the struggle, Pinkie receives a permanent knife scar on his cheek, an act that reflects the character’s duality. Forget the trailer’s shell game portrayal of a forbidden romance between a suave anti-hero and a love-struck waitress. Pinkie is a twisted soul, hell-bent on becoming Brighton’s number one gangster, a graduate of the “Richard III” school of douchebaggery, from his seduction and marriage of the only girl who could possibly pin him to the crime, to his unflinching betrayal of any associate that outlives his purpose. It’s fitting that Pinkie’s main underworld adversary is played by Andy Serkis (Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” and the ape Caesar from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”). In contrast to Serkis’s smooth and cultured Colleoni, Riley’s Pinkie is a Gollum-esque thug in a festering suit, revealing more of his dark nature with every facial tic of disapproval.
And let’s not ignore Rose, the light in this dark adventure. Film noir regulations require an idealistic ingénue, and we have it with Andrea Risborough. The theme of duality is present with her, too, as we quickly learn that her longing for romance stems from an impoverished childhood under a bullying father. Beneath the timid façade is a hard-headed girl desperate for happiness, a girl willing to lie to protect the fantasy of her loveless relationship with the thug Pinkie, no matter how much it conflicts with reality.
Joffe’s directing is skillfully entertaining, although at times it seems too familiar, too much like something Martin Scorsese or Christopher Nolan already did (what with the film’s “Shutter Island” aesthetic and droning, “Inception”-like soundtrack). For what the film lacks in new visual direction, it makes up in its casting choices, especially in Sam Riley, who channels both “The Conformist” and “Le Samourai” in the cold-eyed menace of Pinkie (and who bears a strong resemblance to Scorsese and Nolan veteran Leonardo DiCaprio). His portrayal of the calculating, heartless side of Pinkie’s psyche is only surpassed by the rare moments when the slimy thug persona breaks down, revealing the frail, scared kid that never learned to trust anyone. It’s powerful acting, and makes the slow descent into Hell all the more compelling.