Sunday, October 9, 2011

Attack the Block

An instant genre classic, Attack the Block is the story of a group of inner-city teenagers in South London who are forced to band together and fight back one night when their council estate is attacked by space aliens.  The aliens are small but vicious, less intelligent space travelers and more ravenous monsters--or as the kids refer to them, "big gorilla wolf motherf***ers.". The movie owes a lot to other genre classics like John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and Walter Hill's The Warriors, and incredibly, it fully lives up to this pedigree.
Writer/director Joe Cornish got his start in cult British TV series The Adam and Joe Show and has since begun to make a name for himself as Edgar Wright’s writing partner on The Adventures of Tintin and the prospective Ant-Man.  Like Wright, while he enjoys making humorous and unabashedly entertaining projects, he isn’t, like so many American comic actors, just a guy hanging out with his buddies and messing around until they get a funny skit going.  While he likes working with friends, and this film sports Nick Frost in a supporting role, he is a highly talented professional who understands filmmaking at an intuitive level, knowing exactly where to put his camera and how to edit his scenes for maximum impact, excitement, and clarity.  This movie, like Wright’s previous three features, really moves, with whip-tight editing and energy to spare.  But unlike Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this is no genre pastiche/parody, but a straight-up, gleeful example of the genre that acknowledges its debt to other genre fare only in the margins, recognizable only to those in the know.
The film is not only cleverly constructed, but terrifically written, with well-drawn characters who make strong impressions without having to have deep, complex inner lives that would only distract from the action.  The dialogue is as snappy and hilarious as anything in the last couple years, apparently developed in concert with the young cast, many of whom come from inner London and are therefore experts on the “believe it, bruv” slang they toss back and forth with such verve.  One of my favorite lines:  When   one boy is told to text all their friends and make sure everyone knows what’s going on, he responds that he only has one text left and “This is too much madness to fit into one text!”
There are also several strong threads of subtext in the film that have only grown more relevant, and probably controversial, in the months since its release.  The London riots, especially, shown a very poor light on the exact type of characters here depicted, with semi-impoverished youths in hoodies running all over the city, mugging, looting, and setting things on fire.  For much of England, these riots became a major crisis in both law enforcement and cultural confidence, bringing out all sorts of problems in the country’s class structure and entitlement establishment.  The movie’s employment of such kids as heroes could then be seen as quite an offensive celebration of a group deserving of contempt, but it nicely sidesteps these accusations to become an exploration of the inner-city culture that both condemns and affirms as the situation changes.  It starts with the kids who will become it heroes mugging a young woman, and it doesn’t let them get away with this or shove such a moral issue to the side.  Instead, it teases out the various resentments and prejudices separating the different social groups in evidence and makes a strong case for greater understanding in place of hatred and blanket condemnation.  In fact, I would make a case that the social politics on display here are even more perceptive and nuanced than those of Assault on Precinct 13, and that’s saying something.  I think Attack the Block will prove to be one of the year’s best films, and will likely become a cult classic for years to come.
Rating: 9/10 stars

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