I really wanted to like Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, I truly did. Attack the Block premiered at the SXSW 2011 festival in Austin Texas to rave reviews, so I was really excited to see yet another homegrown movie doing well. It ticked all of the boxes for me; based in the UK; British cast; Joe Cornish as director; Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead fame producing; and Nick Frost. And yet, when I left the cinema I couldn’t help but question why Joe Cornish thought the story would be appealing…
Usually I try to write reviews with the negative points first and the positives after, so that I leave the reader with happy vibes. Perhaps even encourage you to go see the movie based on our opinions. I just don’t think I can with Attack the Block, so I’ll start with the good.
I love the fact that Attack the Block is set in London as it’s my home town. We don’t have enough genre films set in the UK. The actors all do a pretty top notch job on the acting front, including the largely unknown cast that make up the Sarf London yoofs (UK pronunciation for South London youths). The are funny jokes and scares that make you jump out of your seat. I really loved the alien design – though Drew thought they looked like a bunch of guys running around in Gorilla suits, albeit good ones. The black fur and glow in the dark teeth are particularly effective in the film. There are some nice sci-fi nods too, such as naming the block of flats Wyndham and the alien meteors resembling the Triffid spores. The cinema photography is also really good – who knew a council block of flats could look so beautiful on the big screen.
However, despite all of the above, the film as one huge major flaw, the story. Set on a council estate in South London Jodie Whittaker’s character Sam is mugged by a gang from the block. She only gets away because of a meteor crashing into a nearby car, distracting her assailants. The gang, Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard) who are lead by Moses (John Boyega) investigate and are attacked by a small creature. Chasing it to a park, they kill the beast and revel in the fact.
At no point throughout the entire film do they show any enough redeeming qualities for the audience to show any sympathy for the gang. Joe Cornish tries, by having the gang try to behave as good little boys in front of their families, but they’re lying, so they can go back out onto the streets. Towards the end Sam finds out about Moses home life which again is supposed to endear sympathy but to me it doesn’t excuse his actions. The local drug dealer recruits Moses to sell “white stuff” and the rest of the gang are proud. How is this a good thing? If one of them was Cuba Gooding Jr and the other Ice Cube a la Boyz n the Hood and showed their struggle to better themselves, then perhaps I would’ve felt felt better about the story. As it stands, I wished more of the gang was killed off as it would’ve made the movie more entertaining – they would have got what they deserved.
I’ve read a number of reviews that go on about the morality of the story, but I don’t think the yoofs of London will get it. It glorifies gang violence. As long as the gang in Attack the Block know you live in the block, they’ll leave you alone – Well that’s alright, innit!? Perhaps I’m feeling too uncomfortable with the story because I’ve been the victim of mugging – more than once. Perhaps I would’ve liked to have seen Attack the Block‘s bastards killed to feel some satisfaction. The story failed where it could’ve been great.
That leaves us with Jodie Whittaker’s Sam. The victim of a mugging who feels she has to follow the gang to stay alive, and who does more to keep them alive. Sam may have been suffering from Stockholm syndrome judging her actions towards the end of the movie. However, the real hero isn’t the gang leader who protects the block from alien invaders, but a young female nurse who got mugged.
Written and directed by Joe Cornish, Attack the Block stars Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost, Luke Treadaway, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones and Simon Howard and is out now.