Why remake this? The 1947 John Boulting version, with Richard Attenborough as the lead, was technically perfect and – although it compressed some details of the novel’s plot – the essence was preserved in the transition to screen.
Updating the story to 1964 and adding in the element of mods and rockers brings the story to life, for the modern viewer. Sam Riley (“Control”) brings a fantastic energy to Pinkie and Andrea Riseborough (who played Margaret Thatcher so successfully in “The Long Road To Finchley”) just shimmers, as Rose. They have real chemistry. You believe them. So why do I feel there is something basic that is absent?
Much of the action was filmed in Eastbourne as Brighton just doesn’t look like it used to. This is a good choice. The best part of this, apart from some great acting, is the gorgeous photography of the ocean and the loving period detail in interiors, exteriors and costumes. An excellent Richard Hawley song revs up the pace of the last section.
But the Roman Catholic morality at the centre of Graham Greene’s novel is missing. Oh, it’s alluded to. And yet, it’s not sustained and that is noticeable.
Helen Mirren takes the Hermione Baddeley role and Andy Serkis and Phil Davis stand out. John Hurt appears to be ‘phoning in his performance. What was Rowan Joffe thinking in airbrushing so many plot strands that highlighted the themes of crime, punishment, absolution, good and evil? I didn’t much care for “The American” but I liked “28 Weeks Later”. Yet Joffe’s direction and screenplay pander to to many modern tastes and lose too much of the original’s complexity. He is ruining a great picture by being overly literal and slightly odd.
At 111 minutes, this version is nearly 20 minutes longer than the 1947 version. It doesn’t bore you and keeps its entertainment values high. The violence frightens you.
It is not exactly a dumbing down. There are religious allusions and sensibilities here that have style and grace. Yes, I spotted some anachronisms but the target market of the twenty-something male will not be troubled by these.
The Stratford Picturehouse audience enjoyed it, despite the temperature in the cinema sometimes reflecting the cold ocean breezes. The heating was fine at the start of the movie, but failed so spectacularly that everyone put their coats back on, creating a distraction from the screen.
It’s compelling enough and worth seeing. But Joffe may need to go back to film school. This is a small story with a big message and Joffe has missed some of the basics of the tale. You should leave this wanting some of the shiny pink rock candy so that you can stay with this haunting tale. Instead, you will enjoy some great performances, but will want to see the 1947 film and read the book again. You will feel it lacks heart.
It’s not a waste of time. But it’s not what it might have been.