Movie Review: Brighton Rock

By Stephen Rebello

A teenage boy in 1960s Britain pursues his dream of becoming a mobster kingpin.

Director: Rowan Joffe MPAA Rating: NR Studio: BBC Films

Brighton Rock puts a Sixties era, Mod vs. Rockers overlay on the iconic 1938 Graham Greene novel that inspired an unforgettable 1947 film starring Richard Attenborough as a razor happy, facially-scarred teenager and would-be mobster kingpin. In America, the movie got released as Young Scarface. The new version has Sam Riley (Control) inheriting the charismatic killer role and the flick, the debut feature directed by Rowan Joffe (screenwriter of The American), updates the original’s context and reexamines the characters’ motivations but retains the original’s currently less-relevant concepts of Catholic guilt. Some of that window dressing may score some points with fans of retro, yet despite the movie’s atmosphere and grit, beautifully conveyed by John Mathieson’s cinematography, it floats and drifts prettily and pointlessly—all dressed up in vintage with nowhere to go.

There’s talent all over Brighton Rock, though. Andrea Riseborough touchingly plays the tearoom waitress and murder witness Riley seduces and marries to buy her silence. Both she and the talented Riley are especially strong in a sad, frightening wedding night scene and there’s also a bang-up murder sequence set under the idyllic, slightly seedy Brighton Pier. Those scenes and several others are so crackling that it’s a cinch we can continue to expect very good things from writer-director Joffe. Andy Serkis sinks his teeth into his brief moments as a doomed gang leader, John Hurt lends spidery grace to his role of a grizzled, aging local and Helen Mirren plays, with supreme authority, the naïve tearoom girl’s blowsy, tough, vengeance-driven boss. There may have been no compelling reason to revisit Brighton Rock but Joffe and company provide more than a few thrills and pleasures along the way.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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