A revisionist's adaptation of the classic 1939 novel by Graham Greene, "Brighton Rock" moves the setting from the 1930s to 1964, but otherwise gets to the heart of its tragic underpinnings. As a crime saga involving murderous gangs and destructive riots in the seaside resort town of Brighton, England, the film feels overly familiar and cursory, background shading to the more fascinating central drama between a young mobster in over his head and a guileless teenage waitress willing to sacrifice her own life to stay true to him. Titillatingly open to interpretation and acted with standout gusto by virtual unknowns Sam Riley (2007's "Control") and Andrea Riseborough (2010's "Never Let Me Go
"), the doomed romance is where "Brighton Rock" earns a sneaky indelible force.
When the head of his gang is double-crossed and murdered by one Fred Hale (Sean Harris), the fresh-faced, cutthroat Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) takes over with violent retribution on his mind. He subsequently bashes in Fred's skull underneath Brighton's Palace Pier, then sets about wooing the lonely, easily swayed Rose Wilson (Andrea Riseborough) when he realizes she was the last person to see Fred alive and could potentially testify against him. As the matronly Ida (Helen Mirren), Rose's manager at Snow's Cafe, tries to get through to her about the danger she's in, it's no use; Rose is head over heels about her new beau, the first guy to ever give her much attention. What she mistakes for love and devotion, however, is really a total facade on Pinkie's end. If he can't be sure that he can trust her, there will no longer be any use for her at all.
"Brighton Rock" is the solid feature directing debut of screenwriter Rowan Joffe (2010's "The American
"), and he is given ample aid by composer Martin Phipp's inventively atmospheric score and cinematographer John Mathieson's (2010's "Robin Hood
") sublime lensing, bringing to life the smell of sea salt and the backspray of ocean water dancing around his characters and their surroundings. Sam Riley is cold, uncompromising and immensely watchable as Pinkie, a wayward guy out for himself and not expecting to pick up a wife along the way. It's difficult to understand what he's thinking, and his gradual warming-up to Rose is something not established well enough in light of an unforgettable scene where he records a record at Rose's urging and lets his harsh true feelings for her be known within the sound-proof booth. As the impressionable Rose, Andrea Riseborough is the soul and lifeblood of the picture, a young woman whose poignant naïveté could get her killed. She's fooling herself about her future with Pinkie, happy to disregard what she knows: that her new husband is a murderer. In a film that is pretty unremarkable as a mob drama and underdeveloped as a snapshot of '60s England, it is Rose's journeyand a haunting last scene involving the record Pinkie cruelly made for herthat give "Brighton Rock" its luster.