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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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Robert Bellarmine: When Robert Bellarmine was ordained in 1570, the study of Church history and the fathers of the Church was in a sad state of neglect. A promising scholar from his youth in Tuscany, he devoted his energy to these two subjects, as well as to Scripture, in order to systematize Church doctrine against the attacks of the Protestant Reformers. He was the first Jesuit to become a professor at Louvain. 
<p>His most famous work is his three-volume <i>Disputations on the Controversies </i><em>of the Christian Faith</em>. Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity. He incurred the anger of monarchists in England and France by showing the divine-right-of-kings theory untenable. He developed the theory of the indirect power of the pope in temporal affairs; although he was defending the pope against the Scottish philosopher Barclay, he also incurred the ire of Pope Sixtus V. </p><p>Bellarmine was made a cardinal by Pope Clement VIII on the grounds that "he had not his equal for learning." While he occupied apartments in the Vatican, Bellarmine relaxed none of his former austerities. He limited his household expenses to what was barely essential, eating only the food available to the poor. He was known to have ransomed a soldier who had deserted from the army and he used the hangings of his rooms to clothe poor people, remarking, "The walls won't catch cold." </p><p>Among many activities, he became theologian to Pope Clement VIII, preparing two catechisms which have had great influence in the Church. </p><p>The last major controversy of Bellarmine's life came in 1616 when he had to admonish his friend Galileo, whom he admired. Bellarmine delivered the admonition on behalf of the Holy Office, which had decided that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus (the sun as stationary) was contrary to Scripture. The admonition amounted to a caution against putting forward—other than as a hypothesis—theories not yet fully proved. This shows that saints are not infallible. </p><p>Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. The process for his canonization was begun in 1627 but was delayed until 1930 for political reasons, stemming from his writings. In 1930, Pope Pius XI canonized him and the next year declared him a doctor of the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Lord is our strength. Therefore, each of us will accept a life of poverty in cheerful trust. We will minister to Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor with cheerful devotion. If our work is done with joy, we will have no reason to be unhappy.

 
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