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“You’re good and I’m bad. We’re made for each other.”
These are words of a young mobster, Pinkie, whispered to Rose, his recently acquired girlfriend, one night as he fights to win over her allegiance to him. Pinkie’s remark is also an apt description of director Rowan Joffe’s relationship with the source material. Unfortunately, neither are a perfect match for each other. “Brighton Rock” is a film noir with sparks of brilliance that reveal themselves every so often, but are ultimately left for naught by an inconsistent devotion to the story and mood, falling a measure short of captivating.
If anything, “Brighton Rock” that will leave you with a sense of bewilderment, especially if this is your first encounter with the story, a literary classic, written in the 1938 by Graham Green. There is a sudden murder, and then we are introduced to Pinkie, an up and coming 20-something mob member who is out on the power-hungry prowl in the coastal getaway of Brighton, England. Looking for revenge against those who killed his fellow gang member, Pinkie, by complete coincidence involves a doe-eyed waitress, Rose. This event slightly derails Pinkie’s focus on gaining control of his mob, and he instead must secure the affections of Rose to keep her from revealing information that would incriminate him as a murderer.
What makes the film a challenge to decipher from the beginning is the lack of coherent characters or coherent dialogue. There is that unavoidable fact that this is a film deeply steeped in British vocabulary and dramatics. But that neither helps nor hurts, instead the problem lies in the the way that the leading characters are almost too loosely defined and too much is left up to the audience having to interpret their motivations and even their basic emotions.
Although “Brighton Rock” starts with a shaky beginning, it does overtime gain some sanity thanks to the three unique lead performances. Roses’ employer at the cafe, Ida Arnold, played by Helen Mirren, takes upon herself a motherly protectiveness of Rose and begins to try to loosen Pinkie’s death grip on Rose. Mirren absolutely thrives in the role, portraying an older woman while exuding a certain youthful veracity that has been absent from many of her recent roles in other films. She electrifies the space she is given in every scene, and as Mrs. Arnold, she achieves an odd neutrality, full of goodness and yet, is threatening.
Both Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough complement one another well as Pinkie and Rose. What is surprising is just how flat Riley’s interpretation of Pinkie feels in comparison to Risenbourough’s turn as Rose. Her performance is by far the most nuanced – in one moment she an insecure girl hidden behind a pair of glasses, the next, she is a much darker vision of sexual appeal, a lady. Where Rose is a constantly evolving personality, Pinkie never reaches that climatic spark where he fulfills the expectation of vile, violent mobster that the film keeps trying to convince us that he is. And this, is where the entire thing begins to fragment.
Viewing ”Brighton Rock,” I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was witnessing the potential of a story, decorated with all the right elements, that never arrives. Time and time again, as Pinkie grows closer to Rose in a hideous way, the melodrama of their relationship ebbs and flows wonderfully. Then, in the very next scene it is immediately wiped away with another convoluted conversation or overbearing visual element. I was left exhausted, and my emotions never had a fair chance develop in response to a story that wanted desperately to be a beautiful tragedy.
What works brilliantly in “Brighton Rock,” is the final thirty minutes. Oddly detached from the rest of the movie, the last moments finely capture a mood and meaning that should have existed all along. As Pinkie and Rose come to the pinnacle of their experience, and Mrs. Arnold grows closer to saving Rose, there is a symphony to their heartbreaking demise. The film’s musical score is finally noticeable, as it carries us along in the emotionally-wrenching arch with the characters. Director Rowan Joffe tries to final tell us something that up to this point, has been lost somewhere under the rubble of the rest of the storyline. It is about the power of miracles, those that come from faith, a faith in Rose that never faltered once as she trusted Pinkie. It is a religious faith as much as a self-invented, misguided one. The message works, and while the majority of the movie is a blur, we are left with a shot of Rose listening to a recording of Pinkie expressing his affection for her. It is a delusional love, but in Rose’s case, it is as unadulterated as can be. If only the rest of “Brighton Rock” wasn’t this deluded in it’s own lack of brilliance.