Sunday, July 31, 2011

Attack The Block (2011) Review


When newly relocated nurse, Sam is walking home from the train station, and into the darkened streets of Lambeth, she is faced down by a hooded gang of would-be toughs, and is mugged. And as the robbery drags on into the fireworks laden Bonfire Night, what looks to be a straight-shooting comet bursts into a car near them, breaking up the vehicle, and allowing Sam to escape. Naturally startled, and curious, the boys, led by the imposing Moses(Joe Boyega) decide to look into the damaged car in hopes of seeking loot, when what comes from out of the crater is roughly the size of a small child, and seems far from friendly. The ensuing struggle leaves Moses' face injured, and instantly leads to the entire crew cornering the little beast, and unleashing the small-town beatdown, killing it. And as the boys flaunt the creature's corpse by taking it back to their elders in block-leader Hi-Hatz, along with local drug-dealing Ron in hopes of making bank off of this unprecedented discovery, unbeknownst to any of them that their troubles run deeper than trying to impress the local kingpin. Outside, a small army of the beasts in adult form are amassing, and ready to wreak intergalactic havoc on this broken down South London council estate. But not without a fight. (with fireworks, baseball bats, swords...etc..)

Coming into this film, and witnessing it all unfold, growing up in none-too-prosperous neighborhoods came center stage. Right on to where I happen to live now. You see, from the outset there was instant identification with the world of this as someone who has experienced a mugging, and been looking to better understand the plight that leads one into a situation such as this. The divide between victim, and perpetrator can sometimes be a blurry one, when the discussion deepens. And having also grown up in areas where local kids create something of a pecking order based on who would make the best footsoldier, and the small fries just looking to be respected by anyone- parents notwithtstanding, is something of an urban reality that many are not familiar with, but is a daily one for many. And one of the many things I appreciated from the getgo from Joe Cornish's writer-directorial debut was that none of this comes off as anything less than the dystopia of contemporary life. Which only makes the more cartoonish element of an oncoming alien invasion that much more interesting. When the block is all one knows, or cares about, outsiders are likely put upon, or warded away with a glare. It is the kid life of AKIRA, only it isn't in some near-future Through The Looking Glass version of Showa-Japan.

Set in a South London projects area over the course of one fatefully haywire night, the boys we are stuck with aren't the most ideal of heroes, and would sooner take on the alien horde with mischievious glee than ever try to comprehend what exactly is happening. Along with fellow teenage punks, the prideful Dennis, would-be charmer Pest, reliable Jerome, and mama's boy Biggz, their troubles go triple bad when not only do they have to contend with the alien menace, but even the nurse they attempted to victimize this evening, as well as the ridiculous Hi-Hatz who refuses to buy into Once the true threat is revealed, and our boys are forced to enlist the help of someone they had just mugged, we are in thematic territory that raises the bar for films of this ilk. The film has quite a bit for viewers to chew on regarding not only urban plight in a most unexpected place, but of what it means to live diametric lives whilst amidst economic and social pressures. Even as ATB doles out some truly exciting action & editing, granting us a peek into who the kids are, it finds the time to inform how each half lives, all bound together by how they and authority figures look at each other with fixed distance; never knowing the full story.

This is best evidenced when both the alien plot and Sam with police set out to finger the boys who recently attacked her converge. The themes of action and responsibility weave around Sam's natural instinct to make sure justice is done, and Moses' decisions which have created something of a fateful web for all around him. It isn't very long before it is made clear that within the titular Block, very few actions go without consequence, and that a lack of community is tantamount to greater despair. And it is within this clevery executed framework that Attack The Block strives for more than a special effects romp with kids as the protagonists, and with a roughly miniscule budget, goes all out in delivering the scares & laughs with just the right amount of sincerity. It embraces the dystopia of now, and makes its points without ever feeling wooden save for one tiny moment, and even then, the action kicks right back in again to remind us of the film's genre roots. It's a tricky balancing act that works not unlike the amazing soundtrack implies.

Performances are solid throughout, but the biggest revelation here is with Boyega's who's troubled Moses makes for a truly credible anti-hero, who's arc binds the film entire with a quiet, hard-bitten vulnerability that is rare for young actors. One can easily see him as the one the local little fish look up to, and yet has troubles clearly his own. And as the rest of the boys deftly deliver their individual circumstances, it is all done on a move, which is something of an astonishing achievement. With everything else happening throughout the film's short running time, we are privy to who they are, what they offer to the group, and makes for a uniquely diverse look into an urban life we rarely see in mainstream film. It is refreshingly tangible, and feels light years less put-upon than so many youth-based genre films of the past and present. Also delivering great presence is Jodie Whittaker, who's Sam is something of the film's initial identification figure. Not to mention the ever welcome presence of Nick Frost as the ever-disconnected Ron, and Luke Treadaway as the potentially smart, yet hopelessly off-the-grid, Brewis. But again, the film belongs to the kids who ground the film in ways unexpected.

So merely labeling this 90-minute ride as little more than an Edgar Wright, Nira Park produced comedy in the ranks of Shaun, or Hot Fuzz is a misnomer, and doesn't do enough justice to describe just how incredibly cool & illuminating Attack The Block is. It is as much a film that harkens back to the latter days of Spielbergism & Fred Dekker's Monster Squad, as it is its very own complex creature. A monster actioner with a brain and a heart that demands to be experienced.

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