Brighton Rock Review
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For most of us, the thought of a seaside resort town in the ‘60s probably stirs up images of bright, bikini-clad teenagers—or maybe free-spirited hippies. But there’s something much darker going on beneath the bustling Palace Pier in writer/director Rowan Joffe’s debut crime thriller, Brighton Rock.

As youth riots spread through 1960s England, another battle is building in the resort town of Brighton. After eager young thug Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) witnesses the murder of his boss and mentor, he sets out with the rest of his gang to get revenge on the killer, Fred Hale (Sean Harris). Hesitant at first, Pinkie eventually lashes out and kills Hale under the pier.

Emboldened by this daring act of violence, Pinkie decides to take the opportunity to step into his boss’s role. But, as he tries to take control of the gang, he still has some loose ends to tie up—most importantly: Rose (Andrea Riseborough), a timid young waitress who saw Hale right before his death.

As Rose gets tangled up in Pinkie’s cover-up, her boss, Ida (Helen Mirren), gets involved—but Pinkie has no intention of letting anyone stop his rise to the top.

Based on the novel by Graham Greene, Brighton Rock offers a captivating look at a young punk’s transformation from nervous kid to ruthless criminal. Riley’s Pinkie isn’t the usual smooth and charming young thug; he’s cold and angry and more than just a little bit creepy. He isn’t a likeable character—which sometimes makes him hard to watch—but his downward spiral is fascinating nonetheless.

Pinkie’s growing confidence and determination, meanwhile, makes his love/hate relationship with Rose all the more bizarre. She’s jittery and awkward and desperately longing for attention, so she’s perfectly willing to overlook Pinkie’s obvious flaws to become absolutely, eternally devoted to him. He, meanwhile, resents his attachment to her—yet he seems to care enough about her that he can’t just get rid of her, as he’s done with everyone else who stands in his way.

The relationship is definitely a difficult one to grasp, but the characters are so strangely intriguing—and Joffe’s direction is often so creative—that, almost like Rose, you’ll be willing to overlook the film’s faults. Joffe’s decision to set the film in the 1960s—instead of the original story’s 1930s setting—gives the film a different style and context that works remarkably well. The youth riots bring another layer to the story, while the ‘60s style makes it all visually interesting.

Gritty and suspenseful and pleasantly retro, Brighton Rock is a challenging crime thriller, driven by fascinating characters that you’ll struggle to understand. It isn’t quite as profoundly compelling as it could have been, but it’s still a noteworthy debut feature from a promising young director.

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