Attack The Block

August 14th, 2011 input via mattcolville


“I wish I never done none of those things.”

With these words, Moses passes his test. He is free be the hero everyone in the audience hoped he was, knew he was. Armed with plenty of courage from the beginning, indeed no real sense of fear of anything at first, Moses lacked only humanity. Be nice to think he’d have gotten out of the Waste Land on his own, without an alien invasion. But that would be Clockers, and I saw that movie. Good movie. But given the choice, I’ll take aliens in Lambeth.

The danger for the kids in Attack the Block, the brilliant directorial debut from writer/director Joe Cornish, is that they will become Bad Boys. They are right on the cusp, when we meet them. They are old enough and ill-raised enough to really hurt people and, worse, feel no remorse for it afterwards. They are young enough, however, to be scared.

We see three groups of kids in Attack the Block. We see two innocent kids, far too young to be criminal yet (but not too young to be heroes!) and an older boy, maybe as old as 20(!) who’s already a thug, a gangster, a drug dealer and, when necessary, a killer.

But Moses, Pest, Dennis, Jerome and Biggz aren’t either. They’re not kids anymore, but they don’t realize that you don’t decide to become a bad person, it’s an accumulation of habits and small decisions. For Moses, it is arguably too late. He’s the one who robs a woman in the opening, and he willingly joins the much older boy, High-Hatz’s criminal organization. When the police arrest him, he really was carrying drugs with intent to sell, and he really did mug a girl. He is actually guilty. It’s the aliens raining from the sky that give Moses the chance to redeem himself. There’s a reckoning. He has to apologize to the women he wronged, he has to mean it, he has to regret the things he’s done, and then act selflessly. I have no idea if Joe Cornish has read Eschenbach’s Parzival, but he didn’t have to. It’s in our DNA now.

The script and direction are both, independently, fantastic. Is this as lean a script as Die Hard? It might be. Have to see it again. In what, to me as a writer, seemed a breathtaking fashion, it both leads with the alien invasion, and gives us exactly as much time with the kids, being kids, as we need. I’d probably have said you have to steal the time away from the aliens and give it to the kids, but Cornish does it all, all at the same time. A+

Joe Cornish is going to be huge, but the revelation for me was John Boyega. That kid should be a star. Trust. But what do I know? I thought Eddie was the breakout star of Lock, Stock and instead we got Bacon.

It is an alien invasion though, and while the aliens are a little whatever–you know, they spent about $27 on this movie–they are threatening enough to kill people. Sacrifices must be made. Some of the kids don’t make it…and some of them really don’t make it. It would be easy and cheap to complain about the violence in this film, about the fact that some 13 and 14 year old kids die. But I think that ignores the voice of the author. For these kids, those were already the stakes. They look outside and they see looting on the streets, not the suburbs from Goonies. I think if everyone lived, it would be a kind of betrayal. It would mean the world the kids live in wasn’t real.

I think in this day and age Americans basically don’t give a shit about movies. Moviegoing as a social phenomenon, attendance as a percentage of the populace, peaked around 1939. Then TV came along and movies have dwindled in attendance every decade since. So it’s nice to know that kids today, who didn’t have Gremlins or The Goonies or even The Thing, have Attack the  Block. Because it’s in that same tradition. It shares a lot, I feel, with John Carpenter’s best work and if that sounds like high praise…ok it is, but at the same time I feel a little ashamed that I bother with any comparison. It seems sui generis though of course it is not. It feels derived. But Cornish is of that generation of English writer/comedians like Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright who consumed decades of movies on home video and now get the chance to make their own. I think it’s better than Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. A lot better.

There is a joy here, something to be treasured and seen again, in the romanticization of that period between 13 and 16, between toys and girls, when a young boy can and often does, get into serious trouble. As a white kid growing up in suburban Orange County, there was never much danger for me. But when I was 14, I didn’t know that. We were shot at once, and chased around the complex by a dude with a samurai sword. It’s funny, I know it’s called a katana, but for me, remembering it, it will always be “a dude with a samurai sword” because I didn’t know what it was called back then.

Me and Sergio and Cliff…we pissed a lot of people off and I personally threw several pumpkins from a moving car at high speed and may have caused some serious damage. I could have gotten in real trouble for that. So when I see Moses and his gang running around, doing genuinely bad things but also full of a kind of innocence, I 100% believed it. After one alien encounter, the gang ride their bikes at full speed past the two very young kids who look up to them and want to join in their dangerous fun. There are a lot of funny moments in this movie, but when Pest yelled “Aliens! Run!!” to the two younger kids, I was in love. What a perfect moment. There really were aliens! They really should run!

The movie knows who has to get hurt, and who has to die, and all the rules of storytelling. Kids seeing it won’t know those rules. They won’t understand why Pest, who faked a hurt leg to smuggle a baseball bat in his pants past his mum, has to be the one who gets bitten by the aliens, and in that same leg. They won’t understand why an innocent has to die. The one we like. But it will make sense to them. It’s the logic of story, much more satisfying than the logic of the real world. It’s Moses who causes all the trouble, so by some logic it should be him who pays the price.

But that would merely be justice, not storytelling.

If you know me, you know why I had to love this movie. Attack the Block is now playing in wide release. It deserves to be seen.