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Film review: Brighton Rock

It's a brave filmmaker who takes on a Graham Greene novel, because although eminently adaptable, they tend to hide grand moral themes behind their deceptively simple storylines.

Rowan Joffé is, if anything, even braver, because he is taking on a Greene novel that's already been memorably adapted for the screen. The Boulting brothers' 1947 film of Brighton Rock is, with The Third Man, perhaps the most successful ever adaptation of Greene's work, and featured a wonderfully chilling performance from a young Richard Attenborough as the underworld thug, Pinkie Brown.

For reasons that never become clear, Joffé has shifted Greene's story from the 30s to the early 60s, when Brighton is about to be overrun by vicious gang fights between mods and rockers. Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley), meanwhile, is a minor cog in a criminal mob when the murder of its leader sends him into a tailspin. The boss was the nearest thing Pinkie ever had to a father, and Pinkie's innate viciousness is unleashed. When he stabs to death the man who killed his boss, Pinkie becomes the gang's leader by default, but there's a problem.

A young girl called Rose (Andrea Riseborough) saw him pursue the man along Brighton's pier, and there's even a photo to prove it. In order to find out how much she knows, Pinkie pretends to court her and, to ensure her complete silence, eventually marries her. But Ida (Helen Mirren), the redoubtable owner of the café where Rose works, smells a rat, and becomes convinced the girl is in mortal danger.

In Graham Greene's book and the Boulting brothers' film, Pinkie's sociopathy was inextricably bound up with Catholic ideas of faith and redemption. In Rowan Joffé's Brighton Rock, all of this is flattened into a low-rent crime thriller.

It all starts promisingly enough, and there are flashes of visual flair. But Riley seems to be a one-note actor, and his Pinkie is merely your average glum hoodlum. Though very good as always, Helen Mirren is completely miscast as Ida, who was supposed to be an unexceptional floury housewife.

And the film's complete bewilderment as to what to do with Greene's spiritual themes reaches its climax in an absurdly clunky and heavy-handed conclusion.

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