Although I can’t generally get too worked up about remakes, just as I can’t get too worked up about most things these days — too old; too tired; too long in what teeth I still have left (four, I think) — I suppose this Brighton Rock does have its work cut out.
Although I can’t generally get too worked up about remakes, just as I can’t get too worked up about most things these days — too old; too tired; too long in what teeth I still have left (four, I think) — I suppose this Brighton Rock does have its work cut out. The director Rowan Joffe, who also wrote it, has said it should not be compared with John Boulting’s 1947 classic film noir adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, starring Richard Attenborough as the unblinkingly sadistic Pinkie, and wishes it to be judged ‘on its own terms’, which is fair enough, but how can you? Once you have seen Boulting’s film, how can you un-see it and erase your memory bank?
I wish I could un-see it, and start afresh, as Mr Joffe would like, but it’s a big ask and while I don’t normally mind a big ask — ask me, and ask me big, as I will often say to people; go as big as you dare — this particular ask had me utterly defeated and, ultimately, this film came off the worse. As much as Joffe may have returned to the book, and as much as this Brighton Rock departs from Boulting’s, I still felt as if I’d already seen the definitive version of it. You may do better and, in a way, I hope you do, as I suspect this deserves a chance, but I just could not rise to the occasion, I’m afraid.
Joffe keeps the action in Brighton yet shifts it, time-wise, to 1964, just as the mods and rockers are gathering to fight it out on the seafront. I suppose this is intended to heighten the sense of imminent violence but, as the central story is essentially a claustrophobic one of dark back-alleys, swinging light bulbs in gloomy rooms and good v. evil played out on a stiflingly intimate scale, it seems largely irrelevant. The plot has been simplified, and now comes down to basic gang warfare between Mr Colleoni (Andy Serkis) and Pinkie Brown, the teenage psychopath, as played by Sam Riley, 31. Fine, make him older, but, if he is older, why does everyone keep calling him ‘boy’?
Acclaimed for his performance in Control, Riley is a fine actor but here embodies brooding paranoia and cruelty on such a single note — eyes cast down; eyebrows thatched; gruff, monotonous voice — he’s as much EastEnders villain as anything. The fact is, he’s just too uncharismatic when it comes to Rose (Andrea Risborough), the none-too-bright waitress he must woo to prevent her ever testifying against him. In the Boulting version, Rose’s options seem so limited you can understand why she might latch on to Pinkie, but you get no sense of that here. Risborough’s performance is said to be a star-making one, but her journey from awkward passivity to blind devotion stumbles on the inauthenticity of the relationship. As for Ida (Helen Mirren), who is on to Pinkie’s bad intentions, she has been transformed from a raucous old music-hall turn into a far primmer café owner, and something is lost with that, I think.
I can see there is some terrific stuff going on here. Some of the scenes are stunning, particularly the cliff-top one where Pinkie must overcome his disgust and kiss Rose. Joffe perfectly captures both the frivolity and carnality of seaside resorts. But the Catholic anguish always seems like window-dressing, rather than integral, and, although this version at least stays true to the last version’s ending, I was often bored which, from a film-goer’s point of view, may well be the worst horror of all.
And, now, on to Rabbit Hole which, despite Nicole Kidman’s Oscar nomination, may prove something of a crowd-displeaser, as it’s not an easy ride but, as far as difficult rides go, this is worth taking and holding on for dear life. Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are a married couple grieving for their four-year-old son who, eight months previously, was killed in a car accident.
Becca is a woman who doesn’t know how to feel what she is feeling and, as an actress who has often seemed to struggle with feeling — she doesn’t exactly act from the heart — Ms Kidman is perfectly cast here. A twitch of her mouth, and we know her pain and confusion. The couple are lost. They don’t know what to say to each other, how to be together, and what do you do, when that happens? Where do you go? This sounds, I know, like a mournful dirge, but it is clever, hopeful, real and even funny. The scene where Howie and another grieving parent (Sandra Oh) get stoned and giggle their way though group therapy is an absolute hoot. Anyway, that’s it for this week, and next week? True Grit. I’m off to erase my memory banks. I may be gone a while.