Thursday, 21 July 2011

“I should have pulled the trigger...”

Brighton Rock: directed and written by Rowan Joffe

I feel especially novice-like sitting down to write a review of Brighton Rock. I’d heard neither of the original film nor the Graham Greene novel on which it was based on until I heard rumblings of the film late last year and it’s the type of film which I feel demands reference to the source material for thorough understanding. There’s an annoying feeling that something’s missing at every turn of the plot. It’s sometime in the sixties we’re in an English town – the kind overrun with petty gangsters. The film’s protagonist is Pinkie who seems to be the prototypical angry young man of the era. He’s the member of a petty gang and seeks revenge on a rival when his father-figure is murdered. His plot for revenge inadvertently involves Rose – a young waitress who might hold some damning information for him. The story becomes suffused when Pinkie’s target turns out to be a sporadic lover of Ida, Rose’s boss. The lines tying the cast together are indicative of a sprawling novel but Joffe eschews that sort of epic nature with his script which relegates the action to a series of serendipitous events.
I have an unfortunate tendency to forget the importance of direction, and Joffe’s work on Brighton Rock points me to the importance of the craft. I don’t feel that I miscalculate when I say that what does the film in is his erratic direction. From what I can discern, it’s a story which depends on its protagonist. Pinkie is something of a villainous degenerate and Joffe decides on directing the film showing Pinkie is little more than that. I’m wary of holding Sam Riley’s performance indictable as the reason that the character suffers, though. Even in the face of what should be one-dimensionality, there’s something magnetic about the performance he gives. His Pinkie lacks a charm that I feel the film could have done with but he manages to retain a visceral composure which works for his performance, but not for the film. Because, the crux of the film rests on Rose’s union with Pinkie. She moons around saying lines like, “I’ve never met anyone like you” and the kind and though we can believe that it doesn’t account for her attraction to him. Pinkie’s a monster, and not in the maybe-he-is/maybe-he-ain’t way of a Charles Boyer in Gaslight. He takes little pains to be any les diabolical to Rose than he is to anyone, and Joffe misses what I presume should be an important arc in telling us why Rose seems so…bizarre. Andrea Riseborough is fine but with her snivelling teenage bride and Riley’s diabolical faux-gangster it seems like the two are playing from opposite ends of the stage with different intents.
And, the supporting cast doesn’t help either. Helen Mirren, with nary a grey lock in sight, brings the prerequisite Mirren charm to Ida but she too seems to be in another movie…another movie where her actions were a bit more lucid. She’s devoted to bringing Pinkie down even as she readily admits that the man Pinkie killed was a murderer himself. Joffe can’t manage to coalesce the different registers in which these actors are playing so that ultimately even though none of them is abysmal in their roles the combination is awkward and clunky so that even though Brighton Rock looks beautiful – gorgeously shot, effusively scored and wrought with atmosphere it’s a bit limp. Pinkie says of the candy that when you bite a stick of Brighton Rock down to the centre it stays true, but this Brighton Rock doesn’t seem to have much in the middle. Joffe is content to just flirt with danger, if only he'd had the nerve to dig deeper.


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