The Surprise Film at the London Film Festival is without doubt the hottest ticket of the fortnight, always selling out faster than any other event listed in the programme. With the exception of a few hugely anticipated high-profile titles (often still in the editing room), there’s inevitably a degree of risk in the choice of film, with the unenviable task of living up to the enormous sense of expectation bestowed upon it. After last year’s controversial misstep of Michael Moore’s unfocussed Capitalism : A Love Story following on heels of two hugely successful previous Surprise choices (the Coen’s Best Picture winning No Country For Old Men and the double-whammy of Darren Aronofsky and Mickey Rourke turning up to present their extraordinary picture The Wrestler) hopes were high that this year would prove to be something special, particularly with the safe bet of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere being a late addition to the Festival programme, the implication being that a greater draw had been nabbed for the night in question.
A quick scan down the list of titles which screened at Toronto last month offered some exciting possibilities. Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating, Tran Anh Hung’s Norwegian Wood, John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole, Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, David O. Russell’s The Fighter, all possible contenders to satisfy the most jaded cinephile (aside from those at Toronto perhaps), and whilst the Coen’s True Grit was in eventuality wishful thinking stretched a little too far (although an optimistic few still held out for Malick’s Tree Of Life!), surely someone must have seen the eventual choice prior to selection, its superficial British roots being the only validation for screening a work of such staggering ineptitude.
Rowan Joffe’s (son of The Mission and The Killing Fields director, Roland) cinematic directorial debut Brighton Rock, the second adaptation of the Graham Greene novel after John Boulting’s version from 1947, has little (in fact, barely anything) which enables me to recommend it in any capacity.It comes across as a particularly amateurish school play, albeit one with a roster of British acting talent (both young and old) at its disposal, none of whom come off well after 111 minutes of this tonal and conceptual disaster.
Representing the nadir of the 85 films I’ve seen at the LFF so far, the plot (in the most literal sense) will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the previous adaptation or read Greene’s novel, and for those that haven’t, the basically recounted events of the story may prove it’s one saving grace, although I’d suggest seeking out either of the aforementioned over this poorly conceived approximation.
Pinkie’s repulsion towards sex, a considerable part of his character in Greene’s telling, is largely ignored, the overt Catholicism reduced to a ridiculous couple of scenes plastered onto Rose (here absorbing Greene’s Molly too) and the complexity of Ida, perhaps his greatest female creation, transmuted into a tea-room owning tart-with-a-heart of singular dimension. It’s a problem all the actors face here, their characters defined by facile dialogue rather than action or personification, Pinkie (Sam Riley) just a scowl in a suit, Ida (Helen Mirren) a horny busybody lacking in any of the irreligious joie de vivre provided by Greene, Colleone (Andy Serkis) apparently acting in another film altogether (A Clockwork Orange judging by his Korova Milk Bar-themed residence) and Rose (Andrea Riseborough), whilst perhaps coming off better than her co-stars, still a tottering picture of awkwardness (the actress, not the character) in a pair of comedy glasses. Atrocious accents abound.
The decision to relocate the action in 1964 serves no purpose whatsoever, other than an opportunity to revel in the clichéd iconography of the period. This being Brighton that means the Mods vs Rockers beach riots, kitted out scooters and a series of costumes and sets each (Quadro)phonier than the last. There’s no texture to the stylised photography, even if some of the widescreen framing is competently presented (the wide-open cliff-top scene particularly), it’s over-lit and horribly graded that whilst clearly a directorial decision, is one poorly made, lending only an overall sense of artificiality at odds with the realist tone of the novel (and previous adaptation).
- “Brighton’s on the move and you, whoever you are, you won’t last”
- “I haven’t even started”
The casting of Nonso Anozie as Dallow goes without comment, race apparently a non-issue in Joffe’s picture-postcard underworld of 1964 and Martin Phipps’ score has to rank as the most histrionic and incongruous in recent memory, utterly overblown in its quasi-operatic film noir pretensions. A plot point involving a recording made on the Pier is established at the film’s mid-point, its laughable resolution in the film’s second coda (after a first, and arguably more ridiculous between Mirren and John Hurt) a low point amongst many.
Desperately reaching for ‘iconic’ moments throughout (weaponry fetishized ad absurdum), Brighton Rock is a work of dire misconception, a travesty of Graham Greene’s writing and the worst Surprise Film at the London Film Festival since the curtain rose on Johnny Mnemonic in 1995.
Brighton Rock – 2010 – United Kingdom – 111 mins – Dir : Rowan Joffe
Screened as the Surprise Film at the London Film Festival on Sunday 24th October.