Brighton Rock, a British Thriller Revitalizes the Noir

If you want to experience filmmaking as it used to be at the height of the Golden Age of Hollywood, then you’ve got to see Brighton Rock. With its palpable atmosphere and impeccably nuanced mise-en-cine, Brighton Rock may well be the most authentic Noir since the Big Studios reigned supreme.

There was a time when the Noir held a place of distinction within the film world. However, over the years the moody and atmospheric genre has fallen out of favor. Some could say it’s because audience’s tastes have changed, but I would have to disagree and place the blame on the filmmakers. After all, it has been proven time and again that if a movie is good, regardless of the genre, people will see it.

Such was the case with the Western, Dances with Wolves, and the Musical, Chicago. Both films bore the stigma of genres that were long considered box office poison, and both films went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year. And now the Noir receives its well-deserved resurrection care of the gritty and stylish Brighton Rock. Not only is it a damn good film that people will want to see, it rejuvenates the genre long considered beyond reviving.

Brighton Rock’s well-crafted world rings true to the aesthetic required of the genre. The film, an update of a 1946 film based on a Graham Greene novel, is set in a picturesque seaside resort full of shady characters and nefarious activities. The year is now 1964, a time when Britain’s Mods and Rockers were often found rioting in the streets. A young punk named Pinkie (newcomer Sam Riley) is entrenched in the world of organized crime, longing to become top man.

When his mentor is suddenly killed Pinkie’s darkest ambitions rise to the surface. And it is a sad twist of fate when a naïve young woman (Andrea Riseborough) ends up an unknowing witness to his act of violence. Easily seduced by Pinkie’s attentions, she falls in love with the mysterious young man, not realizing his motives are sinister at best. As Pinkie becomes more and more ensnared in his web of deceit, he must avoid the police, calm his disgruntled crew, and contend with the mob’s kingpin, while playing cat and mouse with two local proprietors (Helen Mirren and John Hurt) looking for revenge of their own.

Riley (Control, On the Road) gives a stunning performance as the intense and cunning Pinkie. His brooding good looks bring to mind a young Johnny Depp, but darker and edgier, void of any boyishness (other than the kind you might find in Damien from The Omen). Likewise, Riseborough (Made in Dagenham, Never Let Me Go) is thoroughly convincing as the misguided waif whose sincere devotion will make your heart ache as she withstands degradation after degradation, all in the name of love. And with true female bravado,, Helen Mirren serves up one of the juiciest performances ever devised for a mature woman of the screen. Already designated Body of the Year, the 60-plus diva may very well end up actress of the year, reinforcing her title of “The Queen”.

As impressive as Brighton Rock is, what’s particularly noteworthy is the fact that this is director Rowan Joffe’s first feature film. Faced with the temptation of comparing Joffe’s own exceptional debut with that of Orson Welles’, I refuse to claim that Brighton Rock is akin to Citizen Kane. However, this perfectly realized Noir is certainly one of the best examples of its genre, in this or any decade. Its quality and execution hold up to the high standards established by the two most celebrated masters of the genre, Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity) and the previously mentioned Welles (Touch of Evil). Not only is Brighton Rock the best film I’ve seen all summer, it may be the best I’ll see all year.