Rating: 1 star out of 5
The big screen adaptation of British author Graham Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock tells a story of a small time gangster pitting his way up to fortune, love and friendship by manipulating and murdering his way from one tragic circumstance to another. Set in the picturesque mid 60s town of Brighton, this murder thriller has all the making of a hallmark rags to riches gangster film. But on a cold grey Brighton day, the next best thing than to actually sit through this film is to look at a rock.
Brighton Rock (the book) has all the ingredients of a gritty and hard-hitting fictitious gangster story. First adapted to screen in 1947, a BBC radio dramatization in 1997, and even a short-lived musical in 2004, 2011’s Brighton Rock seems to have destroyed everything that was good about the story and completely lost the plot.
Pinkie (Sam “trying too hard to act like a gangster” Riley) is a member of a small time gang made up of two other gangsters and led half-heartedly by Spicer (Phillip Davis) who is as ruthless as he is clueless. Their original leader gets “accidentally” murdered by a rival gang member, Pinkie doesn’t like how Spicer leads, and attempts to take over by doing it his way and avenges the death of his boss –to unconvincing affect.
But what’s even more unconvincing are the performances of the two main characters, Pinkie and his girlfriend Rose (Andrea Riseborough) when they are together. We don’t blame Riseborough, she is believable as a naïve, under-achieving waitress who lives in a deplorable apartment with her jobless father and who later decides to marry Pinkie for a few quids and no wedding ring (We’ll leave the motive for the you to discover if you are ever going to watch this film.) But Riseborough doesn’t have anything to go with playing beside a boring Sam Riley. There’s absolutely no emotional connection between the two when they are seen together. We feel more connection when the camera pans to the scenic cliff-top (where most of the inaction takes place) without both of them in it.
So Pinkie fails to lead and gain any form of street credit for his gang, fails to make his wife happy, fails to make money, but succeeds in killing loads of people without much of a motive.
John Hurt’s (famously known for his role as the wand-maker Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter) character Phil Cockery didn’t make any magic for this film. Even award-winning actress Helen Mirren who plays self-professed detective Ida seems to be out of place.
There are many types of British gangster films, most notably the well plot out dark and broody storyline, believable characters and highly engrossing classic Gangster No. 1 starring Malcolm McDowell. Or if mindless sex, drugs, rock and roll and violence is your cup of tea, then Irvine Welsh’s screen adaptation of his novel Trainspotting is first on the list. There are others, RocknRolla, Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and This is England; all thoroughly memorable on their own degrees of impact and accord. But where does 2011 Brighton Rock sits? No where for the neutrals.
But Brighton Rock does sit somewhere on our shelf of British gangster films DVDs. With enough stones in its casing, it is only as good as a DVD stopper.