Brighton Rock review ?

This was the Surprise Film at the 2010 London Film Festival. Ha ha. The poor suckers who were there that night doubtless couldn't have been pleased with what they sat through. Nor will anyone who's read Graham Greene's classic novel be pleased with this new version, such are the liberties it takes with the plot. Furthermore, it's doubtful that anyone who fondly remembers the 1947 film with Richard Attenborough will be pleased with this new attempt. In fact, I can't see anyone whatsoever being happy with it.

It's wrong footed and wrong headed, a wearying display of cliches coupled with a portentous script that never comes to life. With one exception, the performances veer from pedestrian to inept and the over-used music score is too over the top to make one take the thing seriously.

This is Rowan Joffe's cinematic directorial debut - he's the son of film-maker Roland Joffe and actress Jane Lapotaire - and he certainly has ambition to spare. But he's so intent on impressing you with his stylistic innovations - swirling camera crane shots, updating the tale to the early '60s in order to incorporate a big fight on Brighton beach between mods and rockers - that he never lets you forget that you're watching a MOVIE! You feel that you're looking at a film set in every scene. The drama always rings hollow - you're never
absorbed in it.

And the characters are all resolutely unappealing to boot. Especially Pinkie, the thuggish, knife wielding nasty who after initially bottling out of a murder is then involved in a crime that is witnessed by lovely and naive Rose. He captivates her and she falls for him hook line and sinker, unaware of his manipulative and scheming ways. Sam Riley gives a one note performance in the lead, all constant growly snarls with mean looking furrowed brows. It's a stiff, unpersuasive turn and his fellow actors don't fare any better. Helen Mirren overdoes it as Rose's protector, the cafe proprietress who distrusts Pinkie's machinations, Andy Serkis phones it in as an unintentionally funny crime lord, Phil Davis goes through the motions unenthusiastically as Pinkie's former boss turned underling while John Hurt does his usual frightened victim act again.

Only Andrea Riseborough shines. It's a virtually unplayable role but she brings her full acting chops to it. She's fastidiously nuanced and convincingly vulnerable, her subtle looks of worry and desperation believably conveyed and she imbues the part with more heart and soul than this dire film deserves.

The action scenes, when they intermittently appear, lack excitement and as events spiral out of Pinkie's control, it becomes more overheated and melodramatic, with a climax that is frankly ridiculous. An over-ripe misfire of the first order, this is altogether an absolute disaster. Those bods at the London Film Festival really must pull their socks up for the Surprise Film at the 2011 event.

Brighton Rock at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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