movie film review | chris tookey

Attack the Block

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  Attack the Block Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.17 /10
Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega
Full Cast >

Directed by: Joe Cornish
Written by: Joe Cornish

Released: 2010
Origin: UK/ Ireland/ Australia/ New Zealand
Colour: C
Length: 87

Huggable hoodie movie.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Way back in 2006, from the upmarket opulence of Notting Hill, David Cameron encouraged us to “hug a hoodie”, but we’ve grown used in movies from Death Wish through to more recent efforts such as Eden Lake, Harry Brown and F, to seeing teenage thugs as defiantly unlovable.

Now, it seems, we’re in for a glut of pictures – from the slick French films District 13 and District 13: Ultimatum through to the amateurish, home-grown Anuvahood - sentimentalising hoodies as misunderstood victims who need only a nastier set of miscreants to make them look charming by comparison.

Attack the Block strikes a refreshingly happy medium, neither demonising nor glorifying them. It clearly springs from real-life experience, when the 6’3” writer-director Joe Cornish, a middle-aged, public school-educated south Londoner, was annoyed and embarrassed to find himself mugged on his home turf by some 12-to-15 year olds.

The film this event inspired starts off on bonfire night with impressive political incorrectness. Five Brixton hoodies – four of them black - mug a white nurse at knifepoint. Their all too common street-crime is interrupted by a more unusual event: an invader from outer space crash-lands on a nearby car.

The immediate reaction of the gang is to kill the interloper, which looks like an unappetising cross between Sepp Blatter and the beast that burst out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien.

They then parade its corpse triumphantly around their council estate, and celebrate by sampling the wares of the local drug-dealer (Nick Frost) who operates from the 19th floor of their tower block, and fancies himself a naturalist because he watches so much telly.

“Well done, lads,” he says, “you’ve discovered a species hitherto unknown to science and you’ve kicked its head in!”

They fantasise about instant celebrity on Britain’s Got Talent, but then spot more creatures dropping out of the sky: “It’s raining Gollums!” They have enough teenage testosterone to go after the incoming monsters, but when the new arrivals turn out to be bigger, blacker and considerably more lethal than they are, they turn tail and hide in their block, which they share with the nurse (Jodie Whittaker) they so recently mugged.

She is believably under-impressed to meet them again, while they can’t understand why this professional carer doesn’t care for them. “You swear too much, man!” one of them complains. “Boy, you’se tetchy!” grumbles another.

The gang leader (John Boyega) constructs a half-baked conspiracy theory, arguing that the government must have bred the aliens in order to cull troublesome black people. Nor does he respond well to being told that he’s paranoid, saying “There are too many things out to get me, get me?”

Gradually, however, the cowardly gangstas, their stroppy victim and a clueless graduate pot-head from far-away Fulham (a funny turn by Luke Treadaway) learn to work together in order to fight the common enemy.

There are inevitably echoes of Shaun of the Dead fighting off that unwelcome incursion of zombies in Finsbury Park, but the notion of uniting classes and races to resist a common enemy goes much further back, to the heyday of Ealing Comedy and movies such as Hue and Cry.

This is not so much a parody of sci-fi monster movies as an affectionate pastiche. There are enough laughs to qualify as black comedy, but it’s also scary enough to be thrilling. It’s in the tradition of An American Werewolf in London, Gremlins and Tremors, and as enjoyable as any of them.

The special effects are outstanding for a film that cost only eight million pounds.

I especially enjoyed the infectiously rhythmic, driving music by Steven Price and Basement Jaxx, reminiscent of low-budget horror maestro John Carpenter’s atmospheric scores.

Cornish has a great ear for South London slang, and though he makes no bones about his young characters being ignorant and wrong-headed, his kindliness shines through.

You end up feeling that these kids may not be all right, but they are redeemable. The nurse who is, despite her bad temper, the moral centre of the movie ends up acknowledging that her former muggers have ended up protecting her. They grow from being monsters into neighbours.

Although Frost and Whittaker are familiar faces, the piece is held together by the fresh and unaffected performances of the youthful first-time actors, especially John Boyega and Alex Esmail. I even ended up caring when not all of them made it through to the end of the picture.

Budgetary limitations mean that the film lacks the scale of more lavish offerings, such as District 9, and the action climax could have done with the extra dimension that another few million pounds might have brought it.

Occasionally, the inexperience of the young actors does show, and not every line reading rings true. With my grown-up, socially concerned hat on, I was also a bit disturbed at the junior characters’ irresponsible, potentially lethal and highly imitable misuse of fireworks as weapons.

The south London accents and slang may make this a hard sell outside the UK, but it deserves to become at least a cult hit. It’s easily the most entertaining British monster movie since Shaun of the Dead.

Cornish, best known as a comedian for The Adam and Joe Show on TV, clearly has talent, as does first-time cinematographer Thomas Townend.

Running through the film is the same message that underpinned Jamie Oliver’s dream school on television – that too many teenagers have been brought up without understanding the consequences of their anti-social actions. The point is made, but without a hint of hectoring.

Untypically for a British movie, the pace is excellent, it’s thoroughly cinematic, and there isn’t an extraneous scene. And, although the film has a sense of humour, it doesn’t fall into the trap of making its characters do unbelievable things in pursuit of cheap laughs.

I had a lot of fun watching it, and I’m not its target audience. A lot of people under 25 are going to think it’s brilliant, innit.

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