This vibrant British gangster flick influenced by an iconic suspense maestro has a sharp combination of rising and well-established acting talent even if the production overwhelms Paul Webster's swirling, if fated plotting.
Brighton Rock stars Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, and John Hurt, and just can't get around the ambiguity surrounding its characters, particularly Riley's charmer in Pinkie and Riseborough's Rose.
Transposing the action to 1964 as opposed to the late 1930s in Graham Greene's very adult, classic novel proves to be a sensible new setting (when the 'rockers and mods' were mixing it up). Writer-turned-director Rowan Joffe has no trouble establishing a raw, ominous mood reflecting the zeitgeist.
Pinkie displays a thuggish cunning streak when the leader of titular gang is offed as the next-in-line, Spicer (a reliable Phil Davis of Vera Drake), is caught up in the escalation of vengeance as the young disparaging fellow puts himself at the mercy of a possible murder wrap.
Rose is the waitress of a "witness" Pinkie softens up to try and stay ahead of the authorities. That doesn't sit well with her boss (Mirren, better in the espionage timeframe shifting thriller The Debt) as well as the chief minion (Hurt) of a rival syndicate head Colleoni (Andy Serkis).
Riley and Riseborough have the look an exciting young couple, but it's hard to buy into their connection and generic characters despite the intensity that both, especially the former, invest in their roles. Which isn't to say that both won't continued to be noticed by casting agents for qualities that offer more range.
Perhaps in part the lack of sympathy for Pinkie and Rose is due to an obtrusive storyline trying to capture the soul of film noir with line readings intoned for an intended calculated effect. The way the overreaching Joffe augments the conflict with discordant flourishes almost is reminiscent of stinging, if stagy sequences.
So, this coarse, polished tale turns out to be more oppressive than enticing even with the fine change-of-pace from Serkis (strongly suited to the story and technology of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as the slick mobster channeling vintage Sinatra. Even with the presence of stalwarts in Hurt and Mirren, it's hard to warm up to what conspires with thumping spookiness into sullen melodrama.