Attack The Block

Attack The Block

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock famously experimented with audience sympathies by making his heroine a criminal on the run. In Attack The Block, Joe Cornish goes one step further. The film opens with Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a middle class nurse in the wrong part of London, terrified as she is cornered and mugged by a gang of hooded youths. Yet it is these youths whom we follow as the film progresses - the mugging interrupted by something like a meteorite crashing into a nearby car - and it is thanks to great scripting and a charismatic turn from young lead John Boyega that we soon find ourselves wholeheartedly on their side.

This is, in terms of its central plot, a pretty straightforward monster movie, but it has a very distinctive character. Whilst most such films concern themselves with nice middle class people worried about the moral connotations of survival and not used to getting their hands dirty, this film looks at working class urban youth who are used to carrying weapons, dodging pursuit and taking on challenges, even if they're nowhere near as tough or as brave as they pretend to be.

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Rather than hiding when they encounter trouble, their reaction is to hunt down the creature that attacked them with a view to kicking it in. But of course, taking on one monster is very different from contending with the dozens that follow, and their initial glee as they show off their trophy to girls and contemplate phoning Simon Cowell is soon replaced by a recognition that they're facing an emergency. To complicate matters further, they're still being chased by the police and are subject to the unwelcome attentions of gun-toting local hardman Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter).

This is a film which could easily have gone wrong; easily been too cheesy or twee, patronising to its central characters. That it succeeds is due to Cornish's lightness of touch and terrifically naturalistic performances from all the young people involved. This can't have been easy - there are a number of very funny lines delivered completely deadpan before the dialogue moves on, and one imagines that several takes must have been required to give everyone time to stop laughing.

This isn't a comedy in any straightforward sense, though - it's much more adventure-focused than Shaun Of The Dead and it has plenty of real scares, reminiscent of the early work of Peter Jackson. There are shades of The Goonies, except with kids who speak like real kids, in highly colourful language. There's also an undercurrent of bitter social realism as we get glimpses of the day to day lives these kids lead and come to understand why it matters so much to gang leader Moses to be recognised as somebody useful, for all his involvement in crime.

The adult characters don't all come off so well. Whittaker's character is necessarily floundering, out of her depth dealing with violence, but she doesn't have a strong enough personality to work alongside the others. Nick Frost, despite top billing, isn't really in that many scenes and hardly has to stretch himself as a hairy-chested hippy with a fondness for science fiction, though he's still amusing to watch. Luke Treadaway, by contrast, completely inhabits the character of Brewis, a university-educated suburban stoner who aspires to be like the cool kids from the block. Although he wisely underplays the part most of the time, this is yet another reminder that he's one of the most promising talents in the British film industry today.

Attack The Block might easily be seen as a warning to aliens to stay the hell away from South London, but it's also a celebration of the lives of people there, of their communities and of the values that can thrive despite poverty and social exclusion. It's a powerful feelgood film with lots of thrills and a deliciously dark sense of humour. Probably among the most fun films you'll see this year.

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2011
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A gang of dissolute teenagers protect their block of flats from an alien attack.
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Owen Van Spall ****

Director: Joe Cornish

Writer: Joe Cornish

Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost, Alex Esmail, Jumayn Hunter, Leeon Jones

Year: 2011

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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