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Attack The Block: The Best Summer Movie of 2011

The tragedy is that most people in America won’t get to see Attack The Block on a big screen. That’s pretty much where my gripes with Attack The Block end. It’s a temptation with summer movies, in particular action-comedy hybrids, to try to sit and pick them apart for logic flaws or storytelling shortcuts. I’ve done that with this film and come up empty-handed. It’s not deep, it’s not emotional, it’s not revolutionary– it’s a good story with good characters told well. It alternates wonderfully between nail-biting thrills and laugh-out-loud comedy. Most impressively, it never lulls or disappoints for sections, remaining consistently entertaining. It’s the quintessential summer experience.

Moses (John Boyega) heads a gang of inner-city teenage thugs in London. They mug women, steal purses, phones, and wallets, and perform random acts of hooliganism to pass the time. At the film’s beginning, they mug Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a nurse who lives in the projects where these kids reside. The mugging is interrupted by an explosion in the car beside them: something flew out of the sky and blew up a station wagon. Sam escapes, and when Moses investigates, he’s attacked by a small creature. The gang tracks it down and kills it, excited that they protected their hood from an alien and showed it who the bosses are. Then they look out the window and see more objects coming from the sky. A lot more. Bigger ones too. They run out to enforce gang law, but it quickly turns into a fight for survival.

Stories like these go wrong in their translation to film in a number of ways, but the film’s central hook and main character are executed flawlessly. The inner-city teenagers swear, smoke pot, drink, use dangerous weapons, and act like… well, teenagers. They’re charming, but the movie doesn’t manipulate us or make them seem cute. We like them because they’re honest and they behave in a recognizable manner. As thugs, police in London are more scared of them than they are by the possibility of alien attack (the recent riots in London seem to back up that notion), which is a fun twist. Even the locals are hesitant to trust these kids– they try to help Sam after they mugged her, and her reaction is understandably hesitant. The movie has fun with the genre conventions as well. The local pot dealer (Nick Frost) and stoner (Luke Treadaway) are normally the type of characters who die right away in these films, and kids normally survive; much of the suspense is derived from our expectations and how the film subverts them.

Boyega is going to be a big star one day very soon (he was recently cast in a boxing pilot Spike Lee is doing for HBO) for a number of reasons. He’s young and good-looking, but then, so are a billion young actors. Here, however, is an actor whose eyes tell a story, and who doesn’t need to speak or smile to let us in. Even after he’s mugged an innocent woman and interacted with drug dealers, we like Moses primarily because we feel Boyega’s earnestness. This isn’t your typical “black thug,” but it also doesn’t work overtime to convince us otherwise– Moses is unmistakably a criminal with ritualistic bad behavior, but he doesn’t get joy from the mistreatment of others. He seems to be doing what he has to do. What’s more, he acts the same way when danger comes his way: most heroes in films nowadays are the Shia LaBeouf brand of hero, the wimp thrown into harm’s way who has no choice. Moses has all manner of choices, but he chooses to look out for his own friends and neighbors when the time comes, and he is willing to put himself in harm’s way first. The teen delinquent comes off as noble, and the performance by Boyega perfectly captures the understated writing.

Joe Cornish, the writer/director, nails every aspect. The film is short and quick, but still full of developed characters and comprehensible editing. While certainly low-budget, the creatures are scary and original compared to the same derivative aliens we see in every sci-fi flick nowadays. The casting is spot-on, as the repor between all of the kids is terrific and they all give off authentic vibes– I particularly enjoyed Alex Eshmail as Pest, who talks the boldest of the bunch despite being the skinniest and smallest. The music by Basement Jaxx is thumping and suspenseful. They even manage to have a fully satisfying ending, and how many movies can boast that this summer? It’s not a movie that will change your world, it won’t be remembered at the Oscars, and it won’t (inexplicably) be a box-office hit. However, it will make you laugh, it will hold you in suspense, and it will be the most flawless summer movie you see in 2011.

Note: this movie is disappearing from theaters fast for no reason at all. Wherever you are, don’t wait for the DVD. See this at a movie theater. It’s the perfect film to experience with others on a big screen with loud surround sound.

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~ by russellhainline on September 5, 2011.

2 Responses to “Attack The Block: The Best Summer Movie of 2011”

  1. I wanted to see it, but now I will for sure!

  2. […] & Brian Reitzell, Beginners 7. Alberto Iglesias, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 6. Steven Price, Attack the Block 5. Jonny Greenwood, We Need To Talk About Kevin 4. Patrick Doyle, Rise of the Planet of the Apes 3. […]

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