Rowan Joffé's adaptation of "Brighton Rock" marks the second time in film history Graham Greene's novel has been adapted for the big screen. Unfettered by censors and modern morality in general, Joffé's adaptation is allowed to more fully portray the gritty realism that surrounds the film's protagonist, Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) while simultaneously advancing the setting of the film forward three decades adding an additional layer of subtext over the story, making "Brighton Rock" not only an admirable character study but a commentary on the decline of a specific breed of British gangster. Unfortunately, the film has more in common with Joffé's screenplay for "The American" when in fact, it could have gained something from borrowing kinetic energy from his earlier work on "28 Days Later."
"Brighton Rock" is a film full of atmosphere, which initially suits the character of Pinkie Brown quite admirably. Riley's performance is one of moods, building a level of uncertainty and dread on the sheer force of his quiet thousand-yard stares. As a result the audience is easily able to sympathize with his unwitting romantic interest Rose (Andrea Riseborough) who is simultaneously terrified of Pinkie and entranced. Given the circumstances of their meeting, a brutal murder committed by Brown, Joffé's first misstep threatens to derail the whole film. The screenplay does a poor job of establishing that Brown and Rose are teenagers and sadly, some who view the character as an incredibly dense adult may dismiss Riseborough's brilliant and tragic performance. Riley fares a bit better by the sheer sinister nature of his character and it's a credit to the sparks of earnestness Riley brings to the role that we are never fully sure if Pinkie is in fact, a remorseless adolescent sociopath or a wayward youth desperately trying to keep the only way of life he knows afloat in changing times.
While Pinkie's gang if firmly rooted in 30s and 40s tradition, the 60s is fast encroaching, punctuated by a quiet background plot of Rockers versus Mods that gives "Brighton Rock" one of it's most memorable visually competent set pieces. As strong as the films moody nature takes off, Joffé doesn't fully take advantage of a remarkable supporting cast until well into the eleventh hour. John Hurt is poorly integrated as a shopkeeper menaced by Pinkie who turns to Colleoni, a gangster played by the always stellar, Andy Serkis. Most criminal of all misuses of cast, is Rose's employer, Ida (Helen Mirren) who is supposed to be on Pinkie's trail and looking out for Rose's best interest; whether an original novel element or purely artistic decision, Ida's penchant for hanging out in a hotel bar that may or may not be owned by Colleoni, muddles her intentions in the same way the lack of knowledge that Rose and Pinkie are teens muddle their actions.
Far from a dismal failure, this latest incarnation of "Brighton Rock" commits one a grave cinematic sin that sullies its overall level of quality: it refuses to be truly ambitious. While Joffé refuses to shy away from the violence that infests Pinkie's life, Joffé's spin on things relies too much on quiet atmosphere or at least, doesn't do a good job of keeping the pace in between critical plot developments steady. "Brighton Rock" is stylish and ultimately satisfying, but simultaneously tedious and frustrating. A subplot involving Pinkie taking over as leader of his gang is incredibly rushed and throws the film's remaining dramatic weight in the laps of Riley and Riseborough who can only do so much with too little.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is overlaid with a fine level of consistent grain/noise that in no way detracts from the film's solid, cold English color scheme nor strong levels of detail. There's little to nothing to complain about with this transfer, which also sports great contrast and only a few softer looking shots.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is well mixed and a clear track, but overall, less aggressive than the story demands in key sequences and in the end serviceable at best. Surrounds are used to moderate effect and the low-end is on the weaker end of the spectrum. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
"Brighton Rock's" extra features included your standard promotional featurette, a behind-the-scenes gallery of fly-on-the-wall footage, a collection of interviews with the principal cast and crew, and the original trailer.
Rowan Joffé's "Brighton Rock" falls short of modern masterpiece status by a slightly overindulgence of style; it's a story that tries to show too much, when it could have told us a few key factors. Ultimately it survives like many merely average stories do, by the strengths of its cast, with Andrea Riseborough actually stealing thunder from Sam Riley and yes, Helen Mirren. Recommended.