When you see films like Attack the Block, you wonder why the movie industry persists in making stilted, cliche-ridden crap when they could employ unknown actors and make movies much truer to reality in the process. The answer is of course that box office is king, but that does not negate the value of such enterprises. It seems very hard on this movie that from a budget of $8m it did $3m at the counters, but then Americans simply would not get the dialogue – too parochial by far for international standards, though gangsta speak seems no less a dialect than American hip-hop talk.
But then, this is an unashamedly British venture. Not a movie of huge consequence, but it is notable for being what it is, an authentic slice of life avoiding cliches and stereotypes, for which huge credit is due to director/writer Joe Cornish. Categorised by an industry that likes to pigeon-hole everything to the last degree as a “sci-fi horror comedy” or more simply as a “monster movie”, it is in fact fresh, funny and inventive – many of the qualities we thirst for in our movies.
AtB goes places no other movie has ever been, namely a tough (fictional) south London housing estate not dissimilar to those around Brixton; and it takes unknown actors from backgrounds just like that depicted in order to show a slice of police-hating youth gang culture to a much wider audience, mostly people who would never go near a sink estate. It shows reality, good, bad and indifferent, from the perspective of a wide-ranging group of inhabitants.
Gang members are NOT all the same, such that 15-year old Moses (John Boyega) might be leader of a gang that has repeated skirmishes with the law and mugged Jodie Whittaker‘s nurse Samantha Adams (whose life he later saves),but he is at heart a decent and moral guy. For looking below the surface of such an estate alone it should have been a major hit, but the location and its residents are just the context. The rest is pure fantasy, but does show the resilience of people the law and society has written off.
Pure fantasy? Oh yes, it also features an invasion by gorilla-like aliens with bioluminescent teeth and inky black fur, apparently using the block as a beachhead for a full-scale invasion of earth. Not the wisest choice, and certainly home to greater opposition than they could ever have anticipated. The irony is that the resourceful residents of the block manage to fight off the invasion – but still end up being arrested by the police riot squad, who have little truck with stories of an alien invasion. The irony is delicious.
As mentioned, the unknowns in the case are uniformly excellent, but being joined by a seasoned pro like Nick Frost as weed-fiend and dealer, Ron, works superbly. It would be interesting to make a sequel this year and find out how all the characters had developed since the original – possibly losing the aliens in the process.