For his directorial debut, screenwriter Rowan Joffe ('The American', '28 Weeks Later') has adapted Graham Greene's classic 1938 novel. It's the second time for the story on the big screen, but Joffe's version fails to surpass director John Boulting's 1947, Richard Attenborough-starring film. Although Joffe's updated mid-60s backdrop of youth culture and the Mods vs Rockers riots make for some striking visuals, they add no substance to the overall plot.
Pinkie (Riley) is a Catholic bad boy who rises to the top of Brighton's organised crime circuit when his boss and father-figure (Geoff Bell) is murdered. In an attempt to prove to Mr Colleoni (Serkis) and his rival gang that he means business, Pinkie brutally kills a traitor. However, when a naive young waitress, Rose (Riseborough), emerges as a potential witness, Pinkie sets out to marry her to prevent her from testifying against him.
Despite the lack of an emotional connection between Rose and Pinkie - not to mention his evident disregard for her wellbeing - she is easily lured in by his web of lies and craves love and approval, which evidently stems from her relationship with her abusive father. But Pinkie's lack of subtlety and his blatant instability quickly attract the attention of Ida (Mirren) and Phil (Hurt), who are determined to see the deranged youth get his comeuppance.
Sam Riley ('Control') brings suitable menace to the role of Pinky and looks the part, but unlike the unforgettable performance of Attenborough in the original film, it is difficult to form any sort of attachment to his slightly older character.
While Andrea Riseborough fails to give Rose even an ounce of personality, the character's delusional belief in Pinkie is powerful and effective for the most part. Andy Serkis doesn't get the screentime that he deserves, while Helen Mirren as the nosey barmaid and John Hurt as her sidekick just float around the movie, highlighting one of the many flaws within the script.
It's hard to care about anyone in 'Brighton Rock', or even feel sympathy for the vulnerable Rose, mainly because it is difficult to accept her character falling for someone like Pinkie. Joffe's attempt at recreating Greene's fixation with Catholic guilt is sparse throughout, and when he does remember to hone in on the subject it is strained to say the least, eg when Rose enters a church framed with a halo of light.
The score is overbearing in many places, while the cardboard-looking sets weaken the film's credibility. On the plus side, the costumes look reasonably authentic and the British seaside looks as pretty as a postcard.
With a couple of slick mopeds but a lack of strong direction, Joffe may find that he's stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to pleasing audiences.