Friday, August 26, 2011

Rowan Joffe's updated adaptation of Graham Greene's BRIGHTON ROCK

The sound of a foghorn begins the new version of BRIGHTON ROCK. This is followed by the shot of a searchlight, the sea, and a seedy hotel (maybe it's an apartment house?). These initial sounds and images (cinematography by John Mathieson), as well as the film's pitch-perfect but not overly-showy editing (by Joe Walker of Hunger and The Escapist) grab us forcefully and have us thinking that perhaps there's something pretty special going on. There's not. Though, just as with those images and editing, there are enough odd moments in performance and film-making to make you sit up, take notice and then fall into an annoyed snit because, really, the movie never delivers.

The deliverer ought to have been Rowan Joffe, at right (son of Roland Joffé and writer of such disparate good films as Last Resort and 28 Weeks Later), who, in his updating as adapter and director of a :classic Graham Greene novel from its 1930s setting to 1969, has made his film more modern than is perhaps good for it and yet not modern enough. Characterizations and events seem too arbitrary, odd and vicious for the 30s, and yet the melodrama -- and, whew, it is ever!-- remains too silly and unbelievable for a time period as eventful and changing as 1969.

In terms of characterization from both the adapter and his actors, we must do far too much piecing together of what these people are really feeling. Then, when we do, we don't particularly believe in it. This is true of the character played by rising star Andrea Riseborough (above), whose naive young girl begins  to look, well, just a little slow.

Ms Riseborough still wins us over, finally, as does her co-rising star Sam Riley (above), decked out on the posted at top, it would seem, to look like a DiCaprio clone just released from Shutter Island. Mr. Riley, so good in Control, here plays an overwrought, scarfaced gangster boy who slowly pulls the legs off a spider to the accompaniment of "She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not." He moves powerfully from moments tender to those terror-filled and near-nutty, but a real character eludes him. When a  policeman refers to his "scrawny neck," you want to laugh: This kid looks like a young, bull-necked Oliver Reed in training. Pale, pasty and fleshy, he also strike a pose reminiscent of Alain Delon as Rocco

The plot hinges upon murder, perhaps accidental, and its retribution, and is put spinning with one of those coincidences dearly loved by filmmakers and sometimes even by audiences. Helen Mirren and John Hurt (above) are wasted in call-indnly actor to emerge from this mess; nothing doing. The only actor to emerge victorious is everyone's favorite "Caesar," Andy Serkis, playing the rime lord Colleoni. Serkis has good, juiciy fun with his role, and with him, the movie comes to brief life.

Who are all these people, and how much power -- from the criminals to the flunkies to the bystanders -- do they actually possess? This important question haunts the movie because no one, neither the characters nor the filmmaker, seems to know. Ths is, at first, confusing, and finally just annoying. For a would-be crime thriller, it is deadly. Maybe, you think, those with the power simply choose not to use it. Or maybe, it's just Graham Greene, who had a major "god" problem that dragged some of his work into religious soap-opera territory. Certainly this film's "miracle" ending comes off as one of the looniest in memory.

In 1947, I'm told, a better version of the novel was released. On  the questionable strength of this new film, I'd like to see it. Brighton Rock, via IFC FIlms opens today in New York and L.A., with a national rollout to follow -- plus the usual VOD opportunities from IFC, which begin for this film on August 31.

No comments: