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Brighton Rock (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 117 minutes.

Not for children.

This movie grew on me after I left the theater. While it's a dark, depressing tale of a young punk who wants to rise in the criminal gangs in Brighton, England, it's a lot deeper than that. The writer of the novel, Graham Greene, converted to Catholicism in order to marry his wife, and his feelings about the faith and the Church influenced the rest of his life and writings. It is the subtext of the film, even though writer/director Rowan Joffe originally took it out of the script. When that clearly didn't work, he put it back in.

His protagonist, Pinkie (Sam Riley) is the young punk who wants to rise in the British criminal world. After one of his compatriots is brutally murdered, Pinkie becomes more and more sociopathic. He is one of the more unredeeming villains ever filmed. The film is about his seduction of Rose (Andrea Riseborough), a na´ve waitress, who can pin a murder on him. His psychologically brutal treatment of Rose is nauseating. On Rose's side is her boss, Ida (Helen Mirren), who sees Pinkie for what he is and tries to be Rose's savior.

On the surface, this might appear to be just another crime film. But when seen as an allegory of the fight between good and evil, and from the standpoint of Greene's Catholicism, it takes on a completely different appearance. Pinkie is a metaphoric devil. His hair is even spiked in certain scenes. Rose is a metaphor for mankind. The story isn't really about his rise in the criminal world, it's the story of the battle for Rose's soul between Pinkie, as the devil, and Ida, as the Church.

The performances are a major contribution to making this film something special. Riley, Riseborough, and Mirren give such magnificent performances that the movie might be worth seeing just for them. But I have to say that as good as Riley and Riseborough are, the film really captured me when Mirren was onscreen.

This is not an easy film to watch, but if one accepts the allegory and doesn't mind some deep thinking, it's a fascinating experience.

August 7, 2011