Review: Brighton Rock


Noirs are hard to come by in this day and age, although we here at Flixist are big fans of the genre. For the moment, America seems loath to produce any, so we must turn to our English-speaking brethren across the pond. Brighton Rock is an adaptation of a British book that was last put to the big screen in Britain more than 60 years ago. The entire thing takes place in Britain and is generally just British. For those of us with no connection to the country or the source material, the story is still full of twists, murders, betrayals, and intrigue, and what could go wrong with that? Well… check below to find out.

Brighton Rock 2010 Sam Riley

Brighton Rock is a period noir set in the 1960s, and revolves around “Pinkie,” a young gangster who takes the reins after his gang’s leader is killed by a member of a rival gang. When Pinkie returns the favor and smashes said gang members’s head in with a rock, events are set in motion that force him to kill a number of people; marry a girl he despises; and meet up with famous people like Helen Mirren, John Hurt, and (human) Andy Serkis. 

Unfortunately, while it seems like there should be enough content to fill the 110 minute runtime, there isn’t. The film is painfully long and boring. Huge stretches of time pass between anything of any significance actually happening, and the insignificant things are not worth caring about. The film could have easily been half the length and still potentially have been too long. Most of the story is kind of generic and predictable, but there are some twists along the way. The final scenes, for example, went in a completely different direction than I expected. Those are exceptions, however, and simply don’t add that much to the overall experience.

Brighton Rock 2010 motor brigade parade

There are two things in particular that bothered me about the film: its use of knives and its use of religion. Knives are all well and good, but there is a lot of running away from people with knives, and all I could think was, “Shoot him!” For some reason, nobody carries a gun. Everyone has at least one switchblade, but no one has anything else. Maybe I don’t know something about 1960s British gangsters, but the complete lack of guns seemed kind of ridiculous. There is a single gun in the film, used during its climax, and I got the feeling that the lack of firearms was used with the sole intention of making that scene more significant. It didn’t work. 

Then there’s the religious aspect. There are two plot devices that I cannot stand in films: “It’s all a dream” and “It’s all fate.” They are cop outs, used by writers who can’t justify events through any sort of logic and instead turn to a deus ex machina. The ending of this film, without spoiling anything, is the most egregious example I have seen in years, causing a completely improbably series of events (“miracles”) to happen and then end the film on a happy note. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and it left me completely unsatisfied.

There is another issue that is uniquely American. The film is British, and thus the actors all have thick English accents. For the first ten minutes especially, I was having trouble understanding certain words. In fact, it wasn’t until the credits rolled that I was sure what one particular character’s name was. After a while it was fine, but there is an initial period where your brain will have to get used to the particulars of the langauge.

brighton rock 2010 helen mirren john hurt

But it’s not all bad. The acting is quite good across the board. Andy Serkis plays a cigar-chomping, velvet-wearing crime boss and shows that he is just as capable an actor when not wearing a mo-cap suit. Sam Riley, who played Pinkie, did a good job despite looking irritatingly like Leonardo DiCaprio did in Shutter Island. Helen Mirren and John Hurt did their things well enough, and the rest of the actors all did fine. I have no complaints in that department.

The cinematography, on the whole, was likewise pretty great. During some of the more action packed scenes, the film turns impressionistic, showing images from the surroundings that fit with the tone but are not related to the action itself. This crazy editing makes for some really cool moments, and I quite liked the way the film was put together, with one exception: director Rowan Joffe loves awful-looking wide angle shots. There are way too many of them, and they are just… weird looking. They have an almost-but-not-quite-fisheye look to them, and they stick out pretty drastically. The sound design was also good. The music wasn’t particularly notable, but the sounds themselves were well done and I always like the use of silence (assuming it fits).

In the end, though, the bad of Brighton Rock definitely outweighs the good. The film is just too long. For every good moment there are ten minutes of useless footage. If you are okay with that, stupid religious cop-out endings, and difficult-to-understand dialogue, there are absolutely things to like here. Chances are, though, that you don’t, and the things worth liking won’t justify the rest.

Xander: 6.95 – Okay. The Boulting Brothers’ 1947 adaptation of the Graham Greene novel Brighton Rock is considered one of the treasures of British cinema, so Rowan Joffe shows he has no shortage of confidence in his own ability by using the same material for his directorial debut . To be fair, it’s not entirely misplaced. There is much to admire in this new Rock: it’s visually bold, thematically rich and features a sterling performance from lead actress Andrea Riseborough. The film stumbles when Joffe’s ambition gets the better of him, but the only unforgivable sin comes in the final scene, when Joffe pays his sole act of deference to the Boulting Brothers’ film by replicating their cop-out ending. Devotees of Greene’s novel may also want to look elsewhere, as there are no shortage of liberties taken. However, this is at least a British film which looks like it belongs on the big screen and is brave enough to present its own vision without cowering before the imposing reputation of its predecessor.