Some movies just make it look so easy. You laugh when they want you to laugh, you jump when they want you to jump, they entertain you through and through and when they’re done you immediately want to see them again. When I had raves on Twitter throughout 2011 that the British production Attack the Block was one of those movies, I was skeptical. Maybe it’s good, I thought, but there’s no way it can be as good as all these people are saying, right? Wrong. It’s as good as you’ve heard, and then some.
The “Block” in this case is a housing project in the roughest part of South London. One night, the Block is hit with an alien invasion. The scope of that invasion never leaves the Block, but it never has to: as it turns out, watching a bunch of teenage juvenile delinquents fight aliens is perfect for riveting viewing. If that plot description reminds you a bit of Shaun of the Dead, it’s by design: Attack the Block writer/director Joe Cornish is a friend and collaborator with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and Wright executive-produced Attack the Block.
Cornish, in his directing debut, displays such a mastery of tone that it’s impossible not to hate him a little. He knows exactly how thick to lay on the action-movie cliches, which is thicker than you think because his teenage heroes are exactly the sort of kids who have taken all of their badass lessons from movies with stories like this one. He has the perfect mix of gore and implied gore: just enough of one to really get you thinking about the other. Cornish’s dialogue is even better, creating and using slang so perfectly that his cast (most of whom are non-professional actors) has no problem making it sound real.
Actually, it might be more accurate to say that most members of this cast were non-professional actors; this film was such a hit in Britain that they’ll all be finding work for awhile. You won’t buy any of them as action heroes except lead John Boyega, but he is really the only one you need. He’s stone-faced and serious, but doesn’t try too hard to be “grim” like some of Hollywood’s younger action stars do. With him in the middle, the remainder of the cast just has to hit the film’s comedy beats correctly, which they universally do.
Even the music in this movie is fantastic. Steven Price, Felix Buxton, and Simon Ratcliffe create a score that combines electronic elements with the more traditional action themes that you might expect from a film like Independence Day. It’s so well executed that I thought Cornish had paid through the nose to hire a major American producer, much like Quentin Tarantino did when he had The RZA score the Kill Bill films.
There is an element of social commentary to this movie: the block is one of those poverty-stricken places that are looked down upon by the police and forgotten by almost everyone else, in part because almost everyone who lives there is a racial minority. However that aspect of the movie is wisely kept in reserve: this isn’t meant to be a film like Boyz N Tha Hood, where such commentary is out there in just about every scene. Cornish conserves the commentary until it will have maximum effect, and it gives the film a surprisingly strong emotional core.
Most of all, Attack the Block is just pure fun. Much like the original Star Wars, the degree that it entertains you eclipses every other aspect of the movie. In the same way that the proper answer to “TIE fighters shouldn’t make any sound in space!” is “Shut up,” any sort of scientific criticism of Attack the Block should get someone thrown out of the room. Just sit back and let this movie wash over you; it’s exactly that easy.
Reviewed by Mark Young