By Sweeney, Jon M.
National Catholic Reporter , Vol. 48, No. 2
From the ominous, opening foghorn, "Brighton Rock" is dark and foreboding. It is supposed to be. Rowan Joffe directs his own script, adapted from the Graham Greene novel of the same name, in this remake of the classic noir crime film.
The story centers around the character of Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley), a rail-thin gangster who doesn't just happen to be Catholic; being Catholic is central to his understanding and perpetrating of evil. He's a menacing thug who has lost his father figure, the leader of his gang, murdered by a member of a rival gang. Pinkie is coping with this but also with the ramifications of his revenge murder of the murderer.
Pinkie's facial expressions are a mix of the vacancy one associates with sociopaths and a sneer. Once the revenge murder is done, the three other members of the gang insist that Pinkie obtain the only evidence that could link them to it: a photograph taken on the boardwalk by an innocent vendor, given to an innocent girl. Pinkie befriends the girl, Rose (Andrea Riseborough), and obtains the photo, only to realize she already knows too much. So, he woos her. He courts her. The audience can plainly and painfully see that Pinkie despises her, is only using her, but Rose, innocent as she is, believes him.
"I love you, Pinkie. I would do anything for you," she writes to him one day on a postcard--to his disguised disgust. He almost tears the card in two and tosses it into the waves of the roaring sea, until he realizes that the sentiment might later be of some use.
They are both Catholics. "I'm a Roman, too," Pinkie tells Rose on their first date. "I used to be in the choir."
"Do you go to Mass?" she asks him.
He shakes his head.
"But you believe?" she asks.
"Course I do," he says. "It's the only thing that makes any sense." And then he tells her that hell and damnation are what makes the most sense to him of all.
Ida (Helen Mirren) is a waitress in the novel but a manager of waitresses in the film, and dedicates herself to punishing Pinkie for the murder. The man Pinkie murdered was a friend of hers. Ida is far more promiscuous in the novel than in this film; Joffe has made her secularly respectable whereas Greene made her only spiritually so. And Ida's secular religious view, central to the original story, is lost here. The narrator of the novel tells us that Ida and Pinkie have different views of death and life: "Death shocked her, life was so important. She wasn't religious. She didn't believe in heaven or hell. ... Let Papists treat death with flippancy: life wasn't so important perhaps to them as what came after; but to her death was the end of everything." Pinkie, the killer, was just such a Papist. He committed a mortal sin and knew it. Ida knows it, too, but there seems to be nothing she can do about it.
In his efforts to keep Rose quiet, Pinkie is soon negotiating with her father, a despicable man, to marry her. He ends up paying the old man 150 quid. At least her father looks shamed as he counts the dough as Rose looks from the hallway. Pinkie and Rose marry, but not sacramentally. No priest, no Mass.
"I was late because I went to church," she tells him as she rushes into the courthouse, "to ask forgiveness."
Pinkie takes Rose aside--with kindness or menace, it is tough to tell--and says, "You've got to understand: This isn't a real ceremony. This is sin, Rose, mortal sin. …