Riley takes on the role of Brighton-based sociopath Pinkie, a role memorably portrayed by Richard Attenborough in the original. The Control actor shows his class as the babyfaced gangster who becomes entangled in murderous turf warfare with a rival gang led by Colleoni (Andy Serkis). In order to survive, Pinkie is forced to immerse himself in the life of Rose (Andrea Riseborough) - a vulnerable young damsel who becomes besotted with the violent lad. It's up to local tearoom owner Ida (Helen Mirren) to convince Rose to flee from Pinkie before he can 'dispose' of her once she's served her purpose. It all leads to a horribly melodramatic and stale clifftop finale that undoes a lot of good work put in by the actors.
The basic premise, from Graham Greene's 1938 novel, is solid enough to ensure that interest in the fates of the characters rarely wanes. Yet there is something sorely lacking in the execution. Pinkie's transition from the hesitant figure we're initially presented with to the ruthless assassin who would shoot his own grandmother to keep his trigger finger supple is simply too sudden. There's no sense of character development here, rather an incongruous leap that appears to have been taken in order to advance the plot in a pacy manner. Bad move. In a similar vein, the screenplay insufficiently presents the motivations for Rose falling for Pinkie. We're simply supposed to accept her unlikely attraction, rather than witness the process of it happening.
Nonetheless, that should not detract from the striking individual performances from Riley and Riseborough. As the story's callous cat and misguided mouse, they deliver moving portrayals that demand you dare not take your eyes off them, monitoring every possible flicker of emotion etched on their faces. The supporting cast of Mirren, Serkis and John Hurt are all eminently watchable too, making the best of the limited opportunity of their underwritten caricatures.
The decision to set the film in the 1960s is a largely redundant change that adds nothing to heighten the atmosphere or the context. Several pointless scenes of mods and activists parading around feel shoehorned into the action unnecessarily. If only Joffe used the same minimalistic conviction that he deployed in his script for last year's excellent thriller The American. He certainly shows occasional visual flourishes on his directorial debut, with nicely stylised scene transitions and an effectively shot brutal murder early on that carries visceral impact.
Brighton Rock's pros and cons pretty much cancel each other out when assessed as a standalone movie, but it comes nowhere close to breaking free from the shackles of its 1947 antecedent. The foreboding horns and murky waters that follow the opening credits promise much and the cast deliver the goods, but the script is sorely lacking in characterisation and conviction.
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