Monday, December 2, 2013

Attack the Block (review)


I saw trailers for Attack the Block when it was in theaters, but since I didn't really hear anything about it from critics or my friends or anything I never went to see it. Then last week my good friend Garth shared with me this review of it which puts forward a definition of the overused term "masterpiece" and shows how it fits the movie (the article's really quite good if its unique writing style doesn't bother you). On that recommendation I decided to watch the movie, and now I couldn't be more disappointed I never went to see it in theaters. As such I'd like to put forward my own definition of what it means to be a "masterpiece": a masterpiece is a really freaking good movie. And yes, Attack the Block is a really freaking good movie.

So the story is that some aliens crash land on Earth in a small neighborhood in London. A gang of teenagers and a woman they just mugged are the first to encounter them and are faced with a series of obstacles. The police are after the boys because of the mugging, and nobody except the small group knows about the aliens because everyone else that runs into them dies. As they juggle hiding from the cops and fighting for their lives, they realize something: the monsters seem to be going after them specifically. One of the older boys comes up with a theory as to why, and the group leader hatches a plan to kill off all the invaders.


Many of the things that come to mind to say about this movie feel misleading. I want to say the child actors are amazing, but then it seems like I'm making allowances because of their age, and really they're great actors in general. I want to say what Joe Cornish did with his small budget is amazing, but then it seems like I want to put this movie on a different level than Hollywood blockbusters. Actually, maybe you should put this on a different level from big budget movies, because if anything it's better. Cornish achieves stronger characterization in the relatively brief moments of story than bigger writer/directors manage in their entire movies.

Speaking of the characters, let's talk about them for a second. They're great. Moses does an amazing job with the strong and silent type hero, but limiting his achievement to an archetype like that is unfair. He plays a complicated and, for lack of a better word, real person (check the review I linked above for a more in-depth analysis of his character). Pest, one of his sidekicks, also performs well as a more comically driven supporting character. The actors are mostly new to the movie scene in addition to be young, and this is Cornish's first feature film, all of which makes the movie feel fresh in spite of its generic nature (i.e. it's an alien invasion movie).


And the soundtrack. I really could not believe how good it was. I'd find myself caught up in the fast-paced story and break away for a second to find the music matching the mood perfectly. (Speaking of the pace, this movie seriously grabs you and never lets go.) The score was composed by Steven Price who, surprise surprise, also composed the amazing score for this year's Gravity. These two scores easily rank among my all time favorites along with the work of Clint Mansell and John Williams (although that man is obviously in a league of his own).

Then there's the thematic richness of the film. The amount of bases Attack the Block covers while leaving ample room for some awesome chases and fight scenes is astonishing. We get messages about community, family, friendship, courage, responsibility, and all this without feeling bogged down or pretentious. The movie is also obviously about race and class issues, but it manages not to shove that message down your throat. There's this wonderful moment when Sam tells the kids her spouse is helping children in Africa and Pest responds, "Why can't he help the children of Britain? Not exotic enough is it? Don't get no nice sun tan?" but then it just moves on. Maybe this is even one of my favorite things about the film: it features a predominantly black cast as if it's not even a big deal.

I definitely don't think this movie is for everyone since the tension is so strong it borders on horror, but if you're a fan of sci-fi you really owe it to yourself to check this movie out. But here again we encounter this limiting way of talking about the movie, this undeniable fact that when I say it's a good sci-fi movie some people will tune out. This is just a good movie, plain and simple. Go see it.



Oh, and also, Joe Cornish reportedly signed on to direct an adaptation of Snow Crash. Count me in.

2 comments:

  1. Sounds great. I'll try to catch it on DVD or bluray if I can. If it had been released theatrically, I wouldn't have missed it, but it wasn't. The low budget makes me feel both enticed and cautious - I don't need too much focus on the aliens, but when they appear, I want quality effects.

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    1. I definitely know where you're coming from on this one. While I can enjoy my old school science fiction it's a different experience and I have to know what I'm getting into. As for Attack the Block, the aliens are minimalistic but effective. You can see them in that second still: little more than their mouths are visible in the dark, which is I think how they got away with their small budget, but when you can see them they look pretty cool.

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