In Rowan Joffe's adaptation of Graham Greene's 1938 novel, Sam Riley plays Pinkie, a baby-faced junior thug who takes advantage of his mentor's murder to catapult himself to the top of their two-bit gang. An obstacle to his criminal dominance is Rose (Andrea Riseborough), a teenage waitress who knows too much about a revenge killing Pinkie might have been involved in. To ensure the girl's silence, Pinkie romances her, managing to keep his menace and malfunctioning heart mostly in check long enough to get her to the altar. From there, it turns out that sweet Catholic Rose gets off on ceding her body and her life to a bad guy's control. The leads are compelling and the chase and fight scenes, scored to a propulsive bass-drum beat, are kinetic, but as Brighton Rock attempts to zero in on Rose and Pinkie's dangerous relationship, it loses momentum. Joffe has problematically moved the action to 1964, with the titular seaside town a postcard-perfect Mods vs. Rockers battleground (that clash of subcultures is given the weight of a nation-sweeping civil war). This new era has much to offer in terms of style—with its perfectly polished scooter and Saarinen fetishism, the film looks gorgeous—but also provides, with its vibe of social and sexual upheaval, a thin "moral panic" context for both Pinkie's unapologetic cruelty and Rose's incurable obsession, undercutting the material's potential power as pure psychological study.
Helen Mirren appears as Rose's overbearing boss.
Opens at Seven Gables, Fri., Sept. 30. Not rated. 111 minutes.