‘Brighton Rock’: Thug cozies up to murder witness

IN 1947 GRAHAM GREENE wrote a screenplay for the first adaptation of his novel "Brighton Rock," but left his original idea for the film's ending on the page.

It's restored in a new version of "Brighton Rock," and I must say the amended conclusion is awesome, in the way that Greene might have intended the word to be used.

Greene, of course, is the novelist and off-again/on-again Catholic who wrote beautifully and intelligently on his ambivalence and ultimately his acceptance of God (see also, "The End of the Affair").

Religious ideas are more playfully at work in "Brighton Rock," the story of a vicious low-grade mobster in a British seashore town assigned to silence the only civilian witness to a mob hit.

Sam Riley is Pinkie, a protection racket thug who at first cozies up to the witness (Andrea Riseborough) to see what she knows (shades of "The Town") and takes a liking to her despite himself.

They're both Catholic, in the margins of local society, and though she is naive and underage and a bit of a nerd and hardly the makings of a gangster's moll, a relationship develops.

Pinkie never loses sight of the fact that he may have to kill her, but wonders if there might not be another way to prevent her testimony. Soon others are pursuing the girl - the local police and an older woman (Helen Mirren, excellent) whose friend was the victim of Pinkie's mob.

"Brighton Rock" is the directorial debut of Rowan Joffe, who is maybe a little too determined here to impress the viewer with stylistic gestures. "Rock" is stylish to the point of garish, with attention-seeking camera placement, camera moves, compositions. A typical example has Pinkie on a scooter, converging suddenly with a rampaging Vespa gang on its way to a riot. It's a dazzling though not readily coherent scene (the setting's changed to the tumultuous '60s), and also evidence that rampaging youth gangs look inadvertently funny on scooters.

Joffe also likes saturated colors, particularly red, and some of the red is blood. "Brighton Rock" is a violent movie, though delivered with a neo-noir wink, and there is always the sense that the girl, no matter how perilous her perch in the story, is protected by whatever grace protects the innocent.

This was surely Greene's intention (when a violent gangster in Greene's movie ruminates about the possibility of hell, you know he's headed there), and figures prominently in the restored conclusion.

It plays almost like the punchline to a sarcastic joke, but it's defensible in the way it expresses the impossibly thin line between salvation and damnation, the one the Greene walked so well.

Produced by Paul Webster, written and directed by Rowan Joffe, music by Martin Phipps, distributed by IFC Films.

Brighton Rock

Directed by Rowan Joffe. With Helen Mirren, John Warman, Sam Riley, John Hurt, Andrea Riseborough, Adrian Schiller, Steven Robertson, Nonso Anozie, Steve Evets, Sean Harris. Distributed by IFC Films.

Running time: 1 hours, 51 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for violence, language and some sexual content).