Brighton Rock, Rowan Joffe, 111 mins (15)
Rabbit Hole, John Cameron Mitchell, 99 mins (12A)
I’m sorry Pinkie, but this has bonkers stamped all the way through it
Sunday 06 February 2011
After Black Swan, I thought we'd seen the year's most bonkers melodrama, but I'd reckoned without Brighton Rock, a fabulously overripe adaptation of Graham Greene's razors'n'rosaries gangster novel.
It starts as a cheeky film-noir homage – all looming shadows and neck-craning camera angles – but it soon tips over into self-parody: no scene is complete until it's been stocked with rolling thunder, religious icons, and music so bombastic that Dr Frankenstein would have it on his laboratory iPod. By the time we've met Andy Serkis's pampered crime lord Mr Colleoni – a cross between Oscar Wilde and Jabba the Hutt – the whole thing is as camp as ... well, Brighton.
Then there are the mods and rockers. Rowan Joffe, the writer-director, has transposed the plot from 1939 to 1964, perhaps to distinguish it from the 1947 Boulting brothers' classic. He's tackled the period setting with typical restraint, kitting out a hotel lobby as if it were Austin Powers's boudoir, and having hundreds of scooters racing along the seafront. Weirdly, the mods then drive away, never to be seen again, so their only effect on the film is to make Pinkie and Rose's story seem like an insignificant sideshow.
Not that the main characters are very subtle themselves. Sam Riley, a decade too old for the role, gives Pinkie (right) an intriguing mixture of fear and menace, but most of the time he's such a growling, scowling psycho that it's hard to see why Rose doesn't run away at the earliest opportunity – unless, of course, she's a few coconuts short of a shy herself. And maybe she is. Andrea Riseborough's Rose goes from World's Frumpiest Waitress to knife-wielding, Biba-wearing co-dependent in the time it takes Pinkie to buy her a lemonade, so why should we care whether Helen Mirren and John Hurt's amateur sleuths can prise her from his clutches? All they're trying to do is save one dangerous maniac from another.
Still, you certainly can't accuse Joffe of being timid. He knows how to make a film with style and vision, even if it is too silly to have much of an impact. If you're looking for depth or nuance, though, you won't find it on this end-of-the-pier ghost train.
As films about a married couple coming to terms with the death of their young child go, Rabbit Hole is less painful than you'd expect. It has the good grace to begin several months after Becca and Howie Corbett (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) have lost their son in a car accident, so at least we don't have to witness their initial raw anguish. They've reached the stage where they're trying to rebuild their marriage and get on with their lives in moneyed suburbia, and for that we should be grateful. On the other hand, a little bit of rawness might have been appropriate in the circumstances.
Instead, Rabbit Hole is so neat and decorous that it feels like an academic lecture entitled "Common Responses to Bereavement". Every line of dialogue is so polished that it sounds like a quotation, and everyone around the couple exists solely to counterpoint their predicament.
Becca's mother (Dianne Wiest) lost her son, too; Becca's sister is due to have a baby of her own; even the teenage boy who ran over the couple's child has to stick to the film's theme, so he draws a monumentally unlikely comic book about the different paths that life can take. There are a few moments of sharp-edged comedy when the characters are allowed to be people, rather than walking symbols, such as when Becca smirks at the consolations of a Christian couple, and Howie scares off potential house-buyers by telling them about his son. But mostly the Corbetts are as dully generic as their perfectly co-ordinated beige furniture.
The screenplay is adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer-prize-winning play, so it's possible that its mannered precision is more suited to the theatre than the cinema. But no drama that deals with the death of a child should be as reserved as this. And while Kidman has been Oscar-nominated for her performance, I was too distracted by her bizarre new inside-out lips to register her acting. Like everything else in Rabbit Hole, they're all too obviously artificial.
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Nénette (70 mins, PG)
This hypnotic documentary from the director of Etre et avoir focuses on an orangutan who (and "who" seems more apposite than "which") has been living in a Paris zoo for 37 years. As she and her three companions lounge in their enclosure, we hear the philosophising of the visitors and zookeepers, but see no human faces except those reflected in the glass that separates them from Nénette.
A Little Bit of Heaven (107 mins, 12A)
The heart doesn't exactly skip a beat at the prospect of a romantic comedy about a wisecracking cancer patient (Kate Hudson) who falls in love with her doctor, (Gael Garcia Bernal), but the film turns out to be braver, earthier and slightly less sentimental than you might fear.
Sanctum (105 mins, 15)
Tedious cave-diving adventure with second-rate 3D, a third-rate cast, lumpish dialogue, lighting that makes no sense in the subterranean setting, and a bunch of objectionable characters who thoroughly deserve to perish several hundred feet underground.
New York, I Love You (103 mins, 15)
An anthology of 10-minute films by the producer of Paris, je t'aime, this time set in the Big Apple. Most of them feature melancholy brief encounters. What's odd is that few of the participating directors seem to love New York at all.
Nothing to Declare (108 mins, PG)
Amiable Ealing comedy-style farce in which a Francophobic Belgian customs officer has to team up with his French opposite number (writer-director Dany Boon) when their offices are amalgamated in 1993. Unless you're a student of European culture clashes, the humour is lost in translation.
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