Brighton Rock: not much to chew on

Sam Riley stars as ruthless teenage mobster Pinkie in this reasonably faithful but curiously pedestrian new adaptation of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. The action’s been brought forward two or three decades to 1964, largely it seems so that the film-makers could work in a set-piece involving mods and rockers riding scooters along the sea front before clashing by the pier, but otherwise the film diligently ticks off all the plot points of the novel without ever really giving you much of a clue as to what’s motivating the central character. We get seedy boarding-houses, snooty tea rooms, dank pubs and a scattering of vicious knife crimes, but my main memory from the book is the seething disgust and lacerating puritanicalism of Pinkie – here, Riley certainly keeps up the intense unsmiling facial expression, but some of his actions seem pretty arbitrary. Andrea Riseborough does however provide excellent support as the cowed waitress that Riley’s character is forced to woo in order to cover up a botched murder, and Helen Mirren is as dependable as you’d expect as the nearest thing this story’s got to a conscience. The film looks good (possibly too good, actually. It might have benefitted from some nasty nicotine-coloured grading here and there), and shows off Brighton well, but the 1947 Boulting Brothers version of the novel is probably still the one to go with.

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