Thursday, 24 February 2011

Film #16 Brighton Rock

Given the treasured Graham Greene source material and the classic Richard Attenborough predecessor there are lot of people who could be unhappy with Roland Joffe's interpretation. And does it work? Sadly, no.

In short: set in 1960s Brighton, the film charts the ambitious rise of young hoodlum Pinkie (Sam Riley), which is complicated by a relationship-of-convenience he takes up with naive waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough). Whilst this adaptation has shifted the action forward thirty years from the original setting of the novel, in some ways it is truer to the novel than the Attenborough version (for example, in the explicit inclusion of Catholic redemptive themes). However, ultimately it is a weak adaptation. Maybe I'm just being a bit slow but the plot didn't seem coherent and left too much unsaid. Also, the characters were little more than cardboard cutouts, relics of a different era of cinema when audiences demanded unambiguous goodies and baddies.

In terms of the craft of the film itslef, while the camerawork is sporadically gorgeous (great use is made of the pier, both above and below) the editing is bewildering; I found it difficult to make sense of the chronology (did the events take plays in a matter of days? Weeks? Months? It's impossible to tell). The film seems cut specifically to bewilder and disorientate - fine if you're making an Inland Empire or a Black Swan but in a straightforward plot-driven piece like this it is out of place.

I'm not convinced by the 1960s setting, either. It just seems tacked on and has little relevance to the story; the same can be said of the Catholic themes, which are very unsubtly introduced. The soundtrack, too, seems misjudged - it leaps from identikit sixties beat-combo sounds to the charleston to honky Bernard Hermann-isms.

Performance-wise, it's uneven. Sam Riley, so good in Control, just can't bring Pinkie to life; we never really get a grip on his motives, or even what the fundamentals or his character actually are. Andrea Riseborough is a wet bag of soppiness, and we're never sure whether she's supposed to be resolute, child-like, sympathetic, winsome or what. On the plus side, John Hurt deos his John Hurt thing, Helen Mirren is stellar (more on her later) and we don't get nearly enough of Andy Serkis, delicious in a silk dressing gown as mob boss Colleone. Perhaps I'm being unfair on the actors though, as the characterisation in general is very flat and there isn't any particularly great dialogue to work with (the mobsters all reminded me of the orcs in the Lord of the Rings trilogy - all cockneyfied sneering and wincing).

So, OK, the film is not very good - but there's something else we can take from it. Helen Mirren is the single element of the film that stops it being a complete failure, and she provides us with a case study in the importance of acting ability in a film. This might seem obvious, but until I started really committing myself to cinema-going I had always placed more importance on the story and the direction.

As the bit-of-posh-who-likes-a-wrong-'un, she has an archetypal role and has to deal with the same problems with character and dialogue that the other actors do. Nevertheless, she is able to give a third dimension to her role simply through her acting talents; it takes an actor of her talents to be able to tell the life story of a character through a look, an expression or a gesture and as such she enlivens the film - a tall, red poppy in a field of chaff.

Nonetheless, this is fundamentally a poor film. Therefore:


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