You could hardly accuse director Rowan Joffe of not thinking big when it came to directing his first movie. Not only was Brighton Rock a highly acclaimed 1947 movie, it was also regarded as a classic novel, written by Graham Greene. Set in 1930s Brighton, Brighton Rock is the story of Pinkie, a gangster establishing himself as the leader of a gang struggling to maintain its grip on Brighton.
In a smart move, Joffe moved the setting of the movie to the 60s, when Brighton found itself as the venue for increasingly violent clashes between Mods and Rockers. This adds to the tension of the movie, as Brighton seems to be falling apart as the violence between rival gangs escalates.
Joffe assembles a strong British cast, with acting royalty John Hurt and Helen Mirren in supporting roles, along with Andy Serkis as Pinkie’s rival Mr. Corleone. But the stars of the show are undoubtedly the two leads, Sam Riley (Control, Franklyn) as Pinkie, and Andrea Riseborough (Made In Dagenham, Never Let Me Go) as Rose. The relationship between the two is the core of the story, as Pinkie seeks to keep Rose from giving evidence to the police about a murder he has committed.
As Pinkie’s troubles start to escalate, Rose goes from being a shy and frightened girl, to a headstrong and passionate woman, determined to protect Pinkie despite the inherent danger in being around him. Riseborough’s performance is the highlight of the movie, and one that seems certain to establish her acting career, in a similar way that Control did for Riley’s.
Mirren’s character Ida has a key role in the movie, she seems curiously under-used. She doesn’t trust Pinkie’s motives from the moment the two meet, but Mirren never gets the chance to really shine, reduced to small moments here and there throughout the film.
Although I enjoyed the movie, the ending is a letdown. Overall, Joffe does a good job in his first directing role, but as a writer he fails to resolve the movie in a satisfactory manner. It lacks tension and drama, and compares poorly with the original version.
Despite this, Brighton Rock is a decent, but not great movie, and is helped greatly by the performances of Riley and Riseborough.