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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Brighton Rock

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service


Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough stars in a scene from the movie "Brighton Rock."
Evoking both visceral menace and moral dread, "Brighton Rock" (IFC) is a violent British crime thriller adorned with metaphysical flourishes.

Based on Graham Greene's 1939 novel, also adapted for the screen in 1947, the story revolves around depraved 17-year-old hoodlum Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley), who manipulates a naive waitress to avoid being arrested for two murders he commits in the coastal resort of Brighton.

Before launching his directorial career, Richard Attenborough delivered a chilling performance as Pinkie in the postwar noir version, which Greene co-wrote with Terrence Rattigan. In this iteration, writer-director Rowan Joffe—son of Roland ("The Mission")—sets the action in 1964, juxtaposing Brighton's seedy underside with social unrest arising from the decade's intergenerational tensions.

Because Pinkie and young Rose (Andrea Riseborough) are both devout Catholics (about his faith, Pinkie avers, "It's the only thing that makes any sense"), the decision to alter the time period also invites reflection on how attitudes toward the church started to change following the Second Vatican Council. Introducing this implicit motif does not obscure Greene's primary aim—namely, weaving tough and timeless questions about religious belief into a harsh but entertaining yarn.

A minor gangster who brutally comes of age during a turf war, Pinkie alternately woos and intimidates the nervous Rose after she unwittingly gains information that could doom him and his associates.

Ida, who manages the tearoom where Rose works, is determined not to let Pinkie escape justice or ruin Rose. Riley and Riseborough acquit themselves well, but Helen Mirren's portrayal of the steely Ida offers needed ballast, as do turns by John Hurt and Andy Serkis in smaller roles.

The suspense is palpable, yet first-time director Joffe frequently opts for histrionic touches that threaten to tip the proceedings into melodrama, albeit of a hardboiled variety. Riots between rival youths—so-called Mods and Rockers—while fact-based and topical, thanks to recent lawlessness on the streets of Britain, are not staged convincingly.

Still, the movie's artier pretensions and lack of subtlety are in keeping with both the novel and the earlier film. Its depiction of Catholicism is slightly overwrought, though never sacrilegious or heretical.

The same cannot be said of Pinkie's malevolent behavior, and his imminent demise is never in doubt. The wicked must suffer in Greene's universe, but so too must the innocent.

One can argue "Brighton Rock" goes further by suggesting that less separates good and evil, salvation and damnation than we'd like to believe. Its conclusion, which mimics the softer ending Greene devised for the 1947 film, is notably ambiguous. Whether the message Rose receives in the final scene constitutes a merciful miracle or a cruel sham is open to interpretation.

Since they're integral to the plot, the objectionable elements listed below can be judged acceptable for adults willing to grapple with Greene's richly complex view of Catholicism and of faith in general.

The film contains considerable violence, primarily involving knives; brief nongraphic marital lovemaking; some profanity and sexual innuendo; and much rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but he soon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog Ultimately there is no friend who can fully understand us, who can walk with us all the way. We must go forward and walk on our own in response to who we are and who we are called to be in God. —Thomas Merton

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