Anybody currently in the mood for a bit of "entertainment" in which violent, rioting British teenagers form the backdrop for an even uglier story of nihilistic criminal youth? Then welcome to the bad-timing release of Brighton Rock , a remake of the 1947 British gangster classic, which was, in turn, based on Graham Greene's book of the same name (some copies of the original novel actually read: "An Entertainment by Graham Greene").
The first incarnations of this story were set in the 1930s, in the British seaside resort of Brighton, but the latest version time-travels to the '60s when well-dressed teens called "Mods" on scooters clashed violently with leather jacket-wearing "Rockers" on motorcycles. John Hurt's elderly character, who spends a lot of time hanging out with Helen Mirren -- the owner of a tea room -- calls the aimless, randomly destructive teens "feckless little gobshites." And he's right. But not nearly as right as if he were talking about the main character, Pinkie.
Pinkie (played by Sam Riley, best known to American arthouse audiences as Joy Division's Ian Curtis in Control) is a teenage gangster/sociopath/religious obsessive. He kills a rival and, after learning that a mousey, innocent waitress Rose (next-big-Brit-thing Andrea Riseborough) is in possession of a snapshot incriminating him, he woos her. She sees a sexy, scarred, misunderstood hood, the only man besides Jesus who can save her. He sees a young woman he can seduce, manipulate, occasionally be nice to in the odd moment when he doesn't find her physically repulsive, or kill when the time is right to dispose of that final bit of evidence. Only Mirren -- dressed up and face-painted to resemble exactly what Helen Mirren would look like if she'd led a really hard-bitten life -- has the moral courage to intervene, but even her efforts can't quite fully stop the emotionally brutal gears Pinkie sets in motion (don't get up to hit the restroom until after the scene where Pinkie records a souvenir record for Rose).
In spite of the updated plots's relatively modern setting, the finished product is the kind of British gangster movie they're not really making right now. With the exception of fake-fancy criminal Andy Serkis's character, these people aren't the witty, self-aware crime-blokes of a Guy Ritchie film. That director's movies are as much about commenting on how weirdly men in tightly-knit sub-groups behave as they are about the mechanics of heists, elegant murders and out-maneuvering/crushing the other crew. Instead, this directorial debut from screenwriter Rowan Joffe (The American, 28 Days Later and the pretty great but little-seen Last Resort, which is also set in a bummed-out seaside town) tells a grim story of violent mental illness, despair, delusion, futility, women's misery, the vise of religion and the really filthy places where actual criminals tend to live. You'll be fascinated by your visit, but when it's time to leave you'll be more than glad to get out.