Pier pressure

Catching up with a couple of films I’ve seen at the Curzon recently. I’d prefer to gloss over Hereafter, but I fear I cannot let this one go. It’s already one of the worst films I’ve seen this year, and since it was written by the unfeasibly talented Peter Morgan (The Deal, The Queen, Frost/Nixon), and directed by the usually solid Clint Eastwood, I’m concerned that the film I saw isn’t the film they made together. An attempt at the Alejandro González Iñárritu/Guillermo Arriaga trick of weaving together a number of seemingly disparate narratives using one inciting incident, it stumbles at many fences. In it, Matt Damon (again, a reliable presence – albeit perhaps working too hard) plays a reluctant psychic in San Francisco, Cécile De France plays a journalist who cheats death when caught up in the Asian Tsunami and subsequently finds it impossible to relate to anybody who hasn’t, and two 12-year-old twins (Frankie and George McLaren) cope with a tragedy in London in a way that’s also linked to psychics. You don’t need to be a psychic to foresee that their stories will interact – in the sense that nobody is going to make a film about three separate people in three different countries across three different continents that didn’t – but you will, to be fair, be pretty astonished by the unlikely manner in which that eventually, eventually happens. I won’t spoil it for you, obviously. Needless to say, the moment “London” is established with a lingering shot of Tower Bridge, you’ll know you’re not in for a subtle ride.

If, as legend has it, Clint is a restless director who dislikes doing too many takes, then he was the wrong director to direct Frankie and George McLaren, who carry a third of the film, and need a lot more attention than Clint was prepared to give them. The French section (look! the Eiffel Tower!) is equally unconvincing, despite being subtitled. The American section, most confidently presented, is also the least satisfying narratively, as we are asked to invest a lot of time and effort into the potential romance of Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard, who cutesy their socks off at an Italian cookery night class taught by one of the Sopranos, but there is no payoff.

The only sequence worthy of note comes at the beginning: the brilliantly conceived special effects bonanza of the Tsunami itself. After that, sadly, it’s all downhill. As it kind of always would be, structurally. Atypically for the Curzon, people were talking in the cinema during Hereafter, as if the film wasn’t irritating enough. I suspect the people talking were as bored as we were. Just ruder.

Brighton Rock was a much better bet. (There was a grown man, on his own, furiously biting his fingernails and checking his mobile throughout, but he stopped when politely admonished.) It’s suffered some pretty harsh reviews, so I feel defensive about it. But then again, writer/director Rowan Joffe – making his theatrical feature debut as a director here – apparently revealed in an interview that he’s a fan of the Collings & Herrin Podcast, so maybe that’s it. I am compromised!

Sold as a remake not of the classic 1947 film starring a 23-year-old Dickie Attenborough but of the classic 1938 Graham Greene novel, it was pointed out in Sight & Sound by Philip Kemp that this is a disingenuous defence, as the now iconic ending (which I won’t reveal, in case you haven’t seen or read the original) is taken from the film. I’m not worried about the purism or otherwise of the adaptation, as I’ve not read the book, only seen the film, and since Joffe has cleverly moved the action to 1964 for a Mods and Rockers setting, it’s immaterial.

Pinkie, the scarfaced teen hoodlum, is once again malevolent, brutal and unforgiveable in the hands of Sam Riley, formerly Ian Curtis in Control. (Incidentally, at the beginning, Riley comes face to face with nemesis Fred Hale, played by Sean Harris, who played Ian Curtis in 24 Hour Party People – a coincidence of casting, or a deliberate pop-cultural nod?) Helen Mirren, Phil Davis, Andy Serkis and John Hurt bring some veteran ballast to the cast, but it’s Andrea Riseborough who impresses the most as Rose, so innocent when we find her, so corrupted – knowingly and otherwise – when we leave her. It’s a finely nuanced performance that changes with the story, and one that actually makes some of the older actors seem a bit practiced and one-note. (I guess that’s the nature of the character.) Joffe has symbolic fun with Greene’s Catholicism (Pinkie and Rose are both “Roman”), but perhaps lays it on a bit thick, with a distorted view from above Christ himself on the cross to a tiny penitent Rose in church, and lots of celestial light and choirs invisible. But then, this is not a film that lays anything on thin. It’s a noir after all, albeit one in colour. The scenes inside the Continental Hotel where Andy Serkis’s crimelord presides are like fantasy sequences, in stark contrast to the more realist scenes on the pier and seafront.

It actually feels like a sleazier remake of Quadrophenia; I kept expecting to see Sting as a bellboy and Lesley Ash in a fishtail down an alley. Joffe even moves the final scene from the pier to Beachy Head at Eastbourne, where Phil Daniels’ scooter went flying. This was clearly a cinematic decision, and I guess it puts some clear blue sky (or some inky black sky) between Joffe’s version and the Boulting brothers’. But it also leaves Brighton some miles down the coast, which for me was a mistake, given the film’s title. It left me asking this fundamental question: why bother remaking Brighton Rock at all? Is there an artistic difference between this and, say, remaking Hawaii Five-0 for network TV? What? Just because it’s based on an old novel? Either way, you’re essentially trading on an existing brand, which will deliver a ready-made audience in a certain mood. But it also inevitably leads to odious comparisons. So, really, why do it? Why set yourself up for that grief? Why not write something new about Catholicism and the seaside?

I actually really enjoyed the remake of Hawaii Five-0, by the way, which started on Sky1 this week. It trades on an existing brand, which delivers a ready-made audience in a certain mood – the mood being: I used to love this as a kid – will they keep the theme tune? (They did. They’re not daft.)

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6 thoughts on “Pier pressure

  1. Agreed. Is there a complete lack of imagination in the film-makng community these days or are they hoping to cash in on a established “brand”?

    9 out of 10 remakes are underwhelming and a complete waste of time.

  2. Thank god someone as respectable as you enjoyed the Hawaii Five-0 remake, I hated myself for doing so!

    I’m put off Brighton Rock by the ‘veteran ballast’ you mention. Part of Quadrophenia’s appeal was the young and mostly unrecognised cast. Why remake a classic film with famous actors?

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Pier pressure « Never Knowingly Underwhelmed -- Topsy.com

  4. I do enjoy these reviews arriving on my phone, even if my life rarely permits me to get to the cinema often. Even though I’m a Brighton resident, I can’t see me chancing Brighton Rock until DVD. This is the first review I’ve seen of Hereafter. Wow! Not often that Clint hits a totally bum note. Almost worth watching just to see that, but again not worth blowing a tenner (or a rennet if autospell had its way) at the flicks.

  5. Hi Andrew, do you know the story of the script for Hereafter? I mention this to defend Peter Morgan and not the film, which is useless. Apparently he wrote it as a rough draft a long, long time ago and it’s been kicked around the studios. People rejected it left right and centre until Clint picked it up, apparently to the surprise of everyone, most of all to Morgan. Morgan then said fabulous, I’ll write the second draft and do it properly – only to be told that Clint liked it as it was and that was the end of the matter. Possibly an interesting insight into its failings there.

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