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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Brighton Rock

Directed by Roland Joffe (2010)

So how did he come by the name Pinkie, then? In Reservoir Dogs Steve Buscemi protests at having to be Mr Pink. It's a mark of humiliation. In Brighton Rock, for Pinkie Brown, itís a mark of some past humiliation, a childhood bullying perhaps, a scar he must carry around with him and is perpetually fighting to overcome.

There is a lot of scarring in the new Brighton Rock. Pinkie (Sam Riley) gets an early slash across his cheek. Phil (John Hurt) gets his ear nicked. Spicer (Phil Davis) is so badly cut about we're not allowed to properly see his face afterwards. Pinkie carries a little bottle of sulphuric acid around with him as a warning of what scarring might mean.

The killing that initiates the plot is a mistake. Pinkie's gang boss was only supposed to get cut up. Brighton Rock is about power, and if you kill someone you're really letting them off. Better to let them live, scarred and scared, in your power. How humiliating is a loss of face when you've literally lost your face, your identity subsumed under another's?

Pinkie Brown's insecurity, his doubtful identity, lies behind his sadistic ruthlessness. When Rose (Andrea Riseborough) the shy waitress, is unfortunate enough to get stuck with the evidence that Pinkie is a murderer everyone tells him he has to get rid of her. Instead he takes the riskier option of seducing her and winning her trust. He is exercising the kind of power that mere killing cannot match.

There are several reasons why this version of Brighton Rock may not work. Moving the action forwards from the 1930s to 1964 enables Pinkie to use the commotion of rioting mods and rockers as cover for his nefarious deeds and enables writer and director Joffe to use plot devices that would otherwise have been unavailable to him.

But that sense of a darkly looming world war, seen from the other side of the horror (Graham Greene wrote the novel in 1947) is lost, while the opportunity to counterpoint Pinkie's brand of immature immorality with the unruly youth-in-general for whom the term 'moral panic' was coined is hinted at by Helen Mirren's crusading Ida then promptly dismissed.

Setting the film half in Eastbourne means, too, that Brighton never gets the chance to establish itself as a character. It looks like too many different places.

And it might have been braver if this Brighton Rock had ended a few seconds sooner than it does, if not a few minutes.

None of that need matter too much in a story with Pinkie Brown at its cold heart. But it's a tough assignment, and in the end Riley doesn't quite do enough to convince us that his scars are more than greasepaint. A chillingly unpredictable character who ought to follow us out of the cinema, flickknife gleaming, stays comfortingly on the screen.

February 9, 2011

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