‘Brighton’ remake loses something over time
Brighton rock is a kind of hard candy sold in sticks at that majestically tatty British seaside resort, south of London. It lent its name to Graham Greene’s 1938 novel, a 1947 film version, and now this remake. Rowan Joffe, who did the script and makes his theatrical directing debut, keeps the Brighton setting but updates the story to 1964. So what was once an impurely pure outpost of Graham Greeneland now feels a bit like the Who’s “Quadrophenia,’’ with mods and rockers mixing it up around the edges.
The novel is pivotal in Greene’s career. It has the thriller elements of one of his early “entertainments.’’ A teenage gangster, Pinkie, has killed a man. He romances Rose, a young waitress, to prevent her possibly incriminating him. What marks a departure for Greene is that the novel is clearly about sin rather than crime. Both Pinkie and Rose are Catholics, like their creator, and he uses them as theological stalking-horses.
Joffe keeps the Catholicism (there’s an inadvertently hilarious shot of Rose in church as seen from the top of the crucified Christ she’s praying to), but with as little seeming purpose as the updating. The son of director Roland Joffe, he has an established career as a screenwriter (“28 Weeks Later,’’ “The American’’). He certainly appears here to want to establish himself as a director. He uses Pinkie and Rose as visual stalking-horses. The camera swoops and prowls and gets placed at distracting angles. At times, you’d think Brighton was in the mountains. Martin Phipps, who did the overblown score, must think so, too. Where else do wordless choirs chant?
Joffe’s biggest mistake isn’t visual, it’s chronological. What makes Pinkie so terrifying in the novel is that he’s just 17. The only thing scarier than a monster is one that’s wrinkle-free. Rose is no older, which makes her innocence both all the more plausible and Pinkie’s exploiting it all the more horrifying. It’s a given that lead actors usually play characters younger than they are. That said, Sam Riley is 31, and Andrea Riseborough is 29. Riley is good, in a gloomy-forceful way; and Riseborough is affecting, if also a bit mannered (she has Rose walk with a gait that’s partway between a limp and a stumble). But neither can overcome the fact that being older radically subverts the nature of the story.
Helen Mirren, henna-haired and splendidly implacable, is Rose’s boss and Pinkie’s nemesis. At one point, he pulls a knife on her. Not a good idea: The only bigger mistake a movie character can make is pulling a gun on Clint Eastwood. Andy Serkis - hail, Caesar! (hail, Gollum, too) - makes a couple of brief, and nicely menacing, appearances as a mob boss. Nonso Anonzie, as the closest thing Pinkie has to a confidant, also stands out in a solid cast.
The first name on the “with special thanks’’ list in the closing credits is Lord Richard Attenborough. It was Attenborough who played Pinkie in the 1947 version. With his moon face and bulging eyes, he looked positively extraterrestrial in the role: a baby Peter Lorre weaned on fish and chips. Poor Riley, who’s probably best known for playing the doomed rocker Ian Curtis in “Control,’’ looks like a young Jack Hawkins or underfed Leonardo DiCaprio. A good-looking Pinkie may be even more perplexing than a Pinkie who’s in his 20s. It’s like a tall Toulouse-Lautrec or a dim-bulb Don Corleone. The movies are all about illusion and the suspension of disbelief - but not that much.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.