Attack the Block is that increasingly rare thing; a terrific British comedy. It’s a film that balances a sharp, critical social conscience about life for young London boys with no real male role models, with very slickly handled, alien invasion movie. And if that sounds like Shane Meadows meets ET then try to forget that because this film has a style and wit all of its own.
Much has been made of the beginning of the film in which The Block gang (Moses, Pest, Dennis, Jerome and Biggz) mug a young white woman, Sam, ( a very fine Jodie Whittaker), who just happens to be living in the same block, Wyndham Towers, as them. For some commentators the deep unpleasantness of that mugging hangs over the rest of the film. I can’t say that I felt the same way. Immediately after the mugging is the alien encounter that creates the story for the rest of the film, as the gang are distracted from the mugging and go on an alien hunt and kill the ‘monster’. When they bring back the alien’s corpse to the block as a trophy, then they bring the consequences down on themselves. Central to all this is the gang leader, Moses, played with an unflinching anger by John Boyega. Boyega is both the moral and immoral centre to this film. And when Moses is told by one of the girls, the group hang out with, that wherever he goes there are consequences, he finally discovers what that means, and the responsibility that entails. That moral reorientation is beautifully handled by the director, Joe Cornish, working from his own script. And it is Cornish’s skill, I suggest that holds both the unpleasantness of the initial mugging and an enthralling action movie.
Cornish’s script moves between a crackling gang patois that’s sometimes incomprehensible, through the RP of posh-boy turned bad, Brevis, who actually finds the reason for the alien attack, to the plaintive commentary of Sam, the mugging victim who grudgingly comes to accept Moses, and finally sees the damage in which he has grown up. It’s Moses who voices one of the sharpest satirical lines: ‘First they sent drugs to the N’s, and then guns, and now aliens. We weren’t killing ourselves fast enough.’ And the fast talking, Pest, (a superb Alex Esmail), the white boy who’s more ‘black’ than the gang, asks Sam why her boyfriend is working with disadvantaged kids in Ghana, and comments, ‘Aren’t British kids disadvantaged enough?’ Cornish’s direction, too, is exceptional from wonderful chase sequences, to the bravura set piece in which the gang fire rockets at aliens in a tower-block corridor, which unleashes smoke that creates havoc and finally tragedy as the gang fight the ‘monsters’.
If the last ten minutes turn a bit ‘super-hero’ and twee, then the rest of the film has earned it. The fear is that Cornish is such a good director that Hollywood will snap him up. Although that may have happened as he has writer credits on the new Spielberg ‘Tintin’.