The success or failure of a film like this, with a story arc that traces the downward trajectory of a villain, falls largely on the shoulders of the actor portraying the central character. Sam Riley’s Pinkie is a young man with criminal ambition, but is possessed of a frailty that doesn’t jibe with the hardness of his posturing. Rather than playing him as grasping and nasty, Riley’s Pinkie is hollow eyed and gormless, seemingly more stupid than evil. His attempt at tough negotiation with the local crimelord Mr. Colleoni (Andy Serkis) seems vaguely ludicrous, as it’s obvious that Colleoni doesn’t take him seriously, as he barely conceals his mild impatience in Pinkie’s presence. Pinkie is a punk, and he never truly feels like a threat to anyone, apart from the foolish, love struck Rose, who seems as thick as he is.
Andrea Riseborough’s Rose is effectively cringe inducing (I mean that in a complimentary way), a silly girl who falls for pretty Pinkie but never realises that he feels nothing for her, and that this lack of any outward emotion may in fact indicate that his intentions are sinister rather than romantic. This complete gullibility is a bit hard to swallow, but that’s not the actor’s fault, as one senses she plays the character just as she was directed to, but it doesn’t feel believable that she would trust him as unblinkingly as she does.
The press release asserts that setting the film in 1960s mods vs. rockers era Brighton was a decision made by director Rowan Joffe to ‘contextualize Pinkie’s youth rebellion,’ but I’m not sure what it is Pinkie is rebelling against. In a scene that is framed portentously in an attempt to invest it with resonance, he changes from a spiv-type suit into a classic slim cut three button tonic, but other than that and a scene in which he steals a scooter and finds himself riding at the head of a pack of mods cruising triumphantly along the sea front, Pinkie seems like a young man who very much wants to be part of the old order of the underworld; he’s no modernist.
The scenes of mods battling rockers, or simply hanging about, feel like they are included to add hip period colour, and a beach fight set piece is so close in execution to a scene in the beloved (by me anyway) Quadrophenia that it feels like a direct homage to the cult favorite.
The thread of Catholic guilt in Greene’s novel that would never have passed the censors in the ’40s is now restored but feels unnecessary and clumsily grafted on to the plot. Pinkie’s brief moments of hand wringing seem like a chance for Riley to switch gears and take a breather from all of his hollow eyed staring rather than an organic part of his character, and considering how blithely self serving all of his actions are for the rest of the film, his moments of doubt or conscience are too few and far between to be meaningful to him or to us.