a Healthy Disdain


ON ATTACK THE BLOCK’S BRILLIANCE: AN OPEN LETTER TO FILMSPOTTING


During last week’s discussion of Attack the Block, Matty asked what he missed while he was cowering in fear of the film’s admittedly impressive, largely practically-realized aliens. Evidently, it was the fact that Attack the Block is the best summer flick of 2011, easily outdoing both X-Men First Class, and, yes Adam, even Super 8.

Not only does Joe Cornish deliver more fun than both of those films combined, he does so while offering the kinds of social insights that First Class, in particular, wastefully avoids. Despite its civil rights-era setting, and the inherent allegory of mutants as marginalized citizens, First Class has nothing interesting to say about race or gender politics, and even falls back on tried and true clichés  (expendable black characters, scantily-clad women). Attack the Block, in contrast, cleverly explores the demonization of Britain’s urban youth – a subject that is particularly poignant in light of recent events.

Cornish, however, is careful not to glamorize gang violence, and this contributes to one of Adam’s issues with the film – its teenage fatalities. I do concede that these are slightly overshadowed during the film’s otherwise terrific climactic sequence, but feel they ultimately strengthen the film. Cornish is to be applauded both for his willingness to provide such initially reprehensible protagonists, and for his decision to teach those protagonists some appropriately harsh lessons in the course of their redemption.

The kids’ initial nastiness and the unexpected deaths are part of what make Attack the Block so much more satisfying than a typical Hollywood blockbuster, seemingly calibrated for maximum sterility. This is also true of the wonderfully innovative creature effects, and of the dialogue, which is remarkably accurate to the snap-crackle banter of urban London slang. For me, it’s this freshness, as well as the film’s super-tight screenplay, that take it above Super 8, as enjoyable as Abrams’ effort may be.

As for John Boyega, it’s possible that, given the accent, Matty didn’t hear what he was saying, but, either way, he’s completely wrong. Boyega is very good, as are all the kids – Alex Esmail as “Pest” most notably.

I realize that, by and large, you were both positive on the film, but felt compelled to write in because Filmspotting has a proud pedigree of backing lesser-known films, and Attack the Block certainly deserves the support. Convincing folks to see modestly-budgeted indie films can be like pulling teeth, but Attack the Block is massively entertaining, and a genuine crowd-pleaser. Were I on the Golden Brick panel, it would be a shoo-in for a year-end nomination.

This letter was originally written as a response to Filmspotting episode #358. There was no feedback segment this week – I fear because too few listeners have seen the film in order to offer opinions – but I didn’t want these sentiments to go to waste. I’m still trying to find time for a full review. Also, to be clear, Filmspotting is awesome.

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