ATTACK THE BLOCK ****
There seems to be a new blooming of directors who grew up loving the films of Steven Spielberg and his early acolytes, and who are now making films “in the way that Steven might have”, while, perhaps, giving them a spin into the twenty-first century. JJ Abrams’ Super 8 was completely styled from the Spielberg playbook, whereas Joe Cornish’s debut feature, Attack The Block, while not so slavishly Spielbergian as that other film, could never, ever have emerged from a first-time director had Spielberg not existed. The film is so directorially confident, so assured of its tone, pace, framing and action, that it essentially wears its influences on its sleeve as badges of honour. Little wonder that Cornish has now co-written The Adventures of Tintin for Spielberg (along with co-writer Edgar Wright); the moment Spielberg saw Attack the Block, he must have instantly known he had another worthy addition to his creative stable.
Which is not to say Attack the Block is not also, in many ways, extremely original. It’s an alien invasion film where we follow a small band of human resistors against the alien foe: in this case, those resistors are a group of young Council Block residents in London on New Year’s Eve. Here’s the rub: they’re actually young – like fourteen – and, in the first scene of the movie, we see them mugging a young woman, and being pretty damn threatening about it.
The fact that this band of thieves could, ultimately, take us on a ride that is completely The Goonies and not a jot Nil By Mouth is the film’s Ace in the Hole. Just because we’re in Council Block land, we’re not in Harry Brown. These kids are wisecrackers, and the film is an outright action comedy. The fact that Cornish has set it in a milieu that is normally portrayed on film as depressing to the point of grotesquery is his little stroke of genius. Fighting aliens, with these ethnically diverse, street-smart, slang-slinging little criminals, is all the more fun for fighting them in a grim cement wasteland at night. The Block in question becomes a fantastic funhouse of a battlefield: its corridors, elevators, stairwells and, perhaps most brilliantly, its disabled-persons access ramps (!) provide plenty of staging area for extremely witty and well-shot action sequences. Indeed, I had kind of given up on action movies, but the action here is different… it’s fun.
The cast of almost entire unknowns and first-timers (Nick Frost being the exception, in a fun, relatively small role) are uniformly terrific. In particular, as Moses, the leader of the gang, previously unknown John Boyega literally gives a star-making performance: since we know that Steven Spielberg has seen this film, it means he’s seen Boyega, and Boyega is good. He’s got an action man’s presence, and I can imagine happening to him what happened to Jason Statham post Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (and if he can master an American accent, maybe even more). Since he’s only about sixteen, his world right now must be one massive oyster, ripe for shucking.
Funny and energetic, Attack the Block is great fun. Not scary, not interested in making you worry about the lives of those in Council Blocks, not too concerned with how or why the aliens are here. Just fun. Really, really good fun.