Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brighton Rock (2010)

BRIGHTON ROCK                B                     
Great Britain  (111 mi)  2010  ‘Scope  d:  Rowan Joffé

Of course there’s a hell.                      —Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley)

A tense and brooding murder mystery that is drenched in the sordid business of the bleak British underworld, adapted from the Graham Greene novel, also a remake of John Boulting’s 1947 film by the same name which starred Richard Attenborough as the sociopathic killer Pinkie Brown.  Updated to 1964, where in Brighton interestingly enough there are constant street riots breaking out between the Mods and the Rockers, motorcycles versus mopeds, where teenage fisticuffs provide a superficial layer of cover for the darker inferno festering below.  From the outset, the film is dripping in moody atmosphere, where the turbulent ocean waters swirl below the high cliffs of town offering a darkly menacing indifference. In this foggy gloom, a lone man is surrounded by men carrying switchblades who mean to do business, leaving him heaped on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood.  The entire story is something of an aftermath to this opening event, a Pandora's Box release of original sin where consequences ensue.  Sam Riley from CONTROL (2007) plays Pinkie Brown, a moody, young, pale faced hood from the Brighton slums dressed in a dark trench coat tucked around his neck who vows revenge, convincing his fellow gang members who are itching to make somebody pay, where the bewildered killer is left alone to fend for himself frantically trying to hide among the crowds strolling along the Brighton Pier, which is a Coney Island style amusement park.  In this sea of humanity Pinkie’s men close in on him, where he grabs the first girl he sees for protection, a young local waitress named Rose (Andrea Riseborough), where a photographer’s random snapshot of the happy couple, and a few significant onlookers, provides the needed diversion to make his escape, where underneath the pier he soon meets a bloody end.

Targeting the girl, as she has the photographer’s ticket, Pinkie decides to seduce Rose, steal the ticket, and obtain her silence, where her naiveté is reminiscent of the Sissy Spacek character in BADLANDS (1973), where the innocence associated with boredom, a life where nothing ever happens, is drawn to the allure of the quick decisiveness of a brutal murderer, especially when it’s presented as a form of therapeutic liberation for her.  In her mind, wherever he goes, she will follow.  This kind of near hypnotic hold over the girl may seem strange, especially as Pinkie has no apparent attributes and is simply a brute that mistreats her from the outset, but to her, he’s a man of action and authority.  What she doesn’t see is his sinister side, as that expressionless look on his face matches his empty and heartless soul.  What’s particularly interesting is that there are very few police in this film, as the film’s not about them.  Instead it’s a dense portrait inside the mind of a remorseless psychopath as he attempts to build a name for himself in vicious gangland circles, boldly taking on the neighborhood boss (Andy Serkis).  As his own gang’s doubt creeps in, as he’s really just a small-time hood up against more powerful forces, he develops a near maniacal death wish, where his lifestyle is at odds against his Catholic upbringing, where there appears to be no road to redemption, just a pathway to hell.  Driven by the law where a wife cannot be made to testify against her husband, Pinkie convinces Rose to marry him, stealing her away from the protection of the church, leaving her in a moral quandary, where Pinkie is the dark protector of her lost soul.  

Making matters more interesting is the smoldering presence of Helen Mirren as Ida, looking very much her age but given a hard edge and a certain earthy swagger, called “the tart who owns Snow’s cafeteria” by Pinkie, the café where Rose works, where the guy Pinkie killed under the pier was a friend of hers.  Very much like an aging Grande Dame in a brothel protecting one of her girls, Ida attempts to protect Rose from falling under the influence of Pinkie, who she suspects is a murderer, playing on his own dubiously amoral turf, doing what she calls “women’s work,” which may as well be a knock down battle in hell for Rose’s soul.  Unfortunately, Riley’s continually morose scowl never veers into psychopathic territory, where he could have had a gas playing to the character’s eccentricities, including a guilt-tinged Catholic soul still fighting for salvation, but instead Riley underplays the role as damaged goods, offering Rose little more than continual scorn and contempt, falling into a sinkhole of worthlessness and depravity that all but envelops him.  Accentuating the state of unease is the offbeat music of Martin Phipps which adds an underlying Hitchcockian imbalance.  Much of the film was actually shot on the seafront beaches of Eastbourne, where the nearby White Cliffs of Eastbourne resemble the White Cliffs of Dover.  Gorgeously shot by John Mathieson, though unfortunately with the same Digital stock blown up on 35 mm film used by Michael Mann in PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009), which doesn’t capture the depth of the dark and seedy atmosphere where much of the noirish action takes place, and oversaturates close ups on faces, where viewers can see every pore and crevice, giving the screen a much more artificial texture.  With a penetrating film examining the near absence of the human soul while utilizing real locations as impressively as this one does, the Digital cinema look can only be considered a major disappointment, as this film should be luminous.  

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