Tuesday, 8 March 2011

BRIGHTON ROCK – A Vicious Little Brit-noir

Andrea Riseborough and Sam Riley - pulling a moody

Spoiler alert: I might say stuff about the film.

Picture the scene: a bunch of broadsheet hacks are at a preview of Rowan Joffe’s Brighton Rock. They hook up in the pub for a post-screening carve up: ‘You do the – it’s not a patch on the 1947 original; I’ll do the botched classic novel and over-cooked catholic shtick. When Phil comes back from the bog we’ll give him setting it in the sixties doesn’t quite come off and Sam Riley’s too old to play Pinkie. Your round, Pete.’
Of course six pints later no-one remembers who was covering what. Cue carbon-copy lukewarm reviews as enlightening as last year’s kiss-me-dick hat. When a reviewer talks about ‘mods on mopeds’ you just know he ain’t getting it.
I must have read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock half a dozen times: faultless characterisation, riveting story, seriously sharp cinematic prose. The 1947 noir movie, co-scripted by Greene and Terence Rattigan was the first of its kind made without the establishment breathing down its neck. The pre-war censors were blocking anything that might suggest a homegrown gangland.
The updated Brighton Rock is a vicious little Brit-noir.  A little ragged at the edges, but with menace in the shadows. Like Mona Lisa, London to Brighton and its post-war antecedent, it makes a feature of Brighton’s tatty backstreets  as the setting for gangland feuds and evil deeds.  
Andrea Riseborough is captivating as catastrophe waitress Rose, witness to the preliminaries of a grab and smash on hapless Fred Hale. Gangster Pinkie is despatched to find the girl and ensure her silence. Which he does, with spite. The two bond over lemonade, mutual need and Catholicism. If it seems an odd match, a visit to Rose’s dad leaves you in no doubt. This girl needs away, at any cost.   
Inevitably, the mods and rockers beach fights backdrop calls to mind Quadrophenia’s ‘Sawdust Caesars’.  Briefly, Pinkie is the real thing, at one point finding himself unintentionally ‘riding up in front of a hundred faces’. But he’s no mod – his hair’s wrong for a start. The Lambretta he rides is stolen; the parka with fish-hooks sewn under the lapels (nice touch) is borrowed. Pinkie belongs to no in-crowd. The mod thing is a uniform of convenience as he carves his own bloody path to hell and damnation.
There’s a world of dark suspense in Brighton Rock, a gripping climax and a faithful re-creation of one of the great cinema pay-offs. The story is true to its roots and whilst not perfect, it deserves more than lazy journo comparisons. A great addition to the Brit-noir canon - well worth a go.    

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