One night in 1986, my grandmother woke my sister and I in the middle of the night with an urgency. I was nine, my sister seven. Grandma loaded the two of us into the car and drove us to the outskirts of town. Half-asleep, I watched the deep-dark-blue skies as Halley’s comet zoomed into view. The last time that celestial object made an appearance to human eyes (in 1910), nobody I’d ever met in my life had been born yet. The next time Halley’s comet makes a visit (in 2061), I’ll most likely be a preserved brain encased in a robot body. There’s no guarantee that I’ll see that comet again, but at least I saw it the one time.
My point is, sometimes you have to wake up and make the trip. I could have slept through the night, without much major disruption to the course of my life. I kind of wanted to. But what I have now is a memory I will always remember, a unique thrill imprinted on my mind for as long as I own it.
Yes, I am absolutely comparing Attack The Block to a once-in-a-lifetime event. Cosmically speaking, it probably doesn’t measure up to a gigantic collection of ice and rock hurtling past the Earth’s orbit. In the grand scheme, Attack The Block is only an excellent genre movie. But there is an uncommon soul to this movie, a youthful energy and a joyful, mischievous, anarchic spirit, that makes it an instant time-capsule movie, a major announcement of writer-director Joe Cornish as an important genre voice. Even if he never makes a movie this good again, he made this one. I strongly doubt it’s an overstatement to predict that this movie will have a long shelf-life. Check back with me in 2061.
Attack The Block is by far the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. I can’t imagine there’s one I’ll like more. It’s funny, scary, bleak, exciting, and triumphant. I feel about this movie the way I feel about many of the films of John Carpenter, which if you follow my writing, you’ll recognize as hallowed praise. At 88 minutes, Attack The Block is lean and mean. It’s composed like a fierce, scrappy symphony. There’s not a scene that should be removed or added. When it ended, I didn’t need it to be any longer, but I did want to watch it again immediately.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s do the recap thing: Attack The Block begins with a pretty young nurse (Jodie Whitaker) heading home to her apartment in a lousy London neighborhood. When she sees a small gang of hooded teens standing in her way, she moves to cross the street, which you might think marks her as a bigot, since she is white and all but one of the punks are black. In the first daring reversal in a movie that’s full of them, Sam turns out to be right about these kids, as they proceed to mug her, stealing her meager earnings. They let her run off, and then the movie shifts perspective (again, for the first of many times), focusing on the gang. There’s Moses (John Boyega, an immediate star), the gruff, taciturn, baby-Clint of a leader. There’s Dennis (Franz Drameh), the flashy-dressed hothead. There’s Biggz (Simon Howard), the walking haircut. There’s Jerome (Leeon Jones), the bespectacled voice of moderation. There’s Pest (Alex Ismail), the comic relief.
There’s also Probs and Mayhem, two much younger kids, pipsqueaks who badly want in on the gang, but let’s leave them out of this summary so you can discover them for yourself. ALL of these young actors are superlative, a major achievement in casting. They fit their roles perfectly, and Cornish is an ace at corralling their energy. Between the cast of this movie, Zack Kopplin’s righteous political crusade, and Odd Future’s shanghai-ing of the music industry, 2011 is the year that rambunctious teenagers kicked down the auditorium doors of the grown-up world and proved there’s plenty of hope for the future .
What I love about the kids in Attack The Block, even the iconic Carpenter-esque anti-hero Moses, is that they’re all unrepentant little shits. This isn’t some coming-of-age story. There are no Screenwriting 101 character arcs. There’s no inspirational principal who teaches them to love. These are raucous little bastards who will knock you down and steal your wallet. Even as we grow to know and like them more and more over the course of the movie, it’s not as if they change. The events of this movie represent one night of their lives. We might come to understand why they are how they are, but it’s not as if they’re unhappy. Attack The Block appeals directly to the adolescent prankster and anti-authoritarian menace in so many of us, and in fact it’s even a little darker and harsher than that. That’s why you’ll see more and more comparisons to Season Four of The Wire as this movie gains in prominence. These are some of the most authentic teenagers seen on screen in a while.
There’s really only one way you could improve upon Season Four of The Wire, and that’s by adding ferocious gorilla-bears from space. Right after Moses and his boys rob Sam, an alien literally drops out of the sky, wrecking a nearby car. Moses goes to check it out. The alien bites him and bounds away. Now Moses gets pissed. He and the boys track the alien down and beat it to pulp, keeping the thing as a trophy. That’s when more capsules start dropping from the sky, and the others of the species come looking for the lost member of the tribe.
This is only the first ten minutes of the movie, by the way.
So if we’ve seen the trailers, we know that the teens will barricade themselves in the projects they ruled until very recently, being pursued by a voracious pack of teeth with legs. Attack The Block becomes a siege movie a la Night Of The Living Dead or Assault On Precinct 13, only funnier. There are nearly-constant laughs in this movie, even in its darkest moments. And don’t even bother trying to predict it. It’s steadily surprising, in the most satisfying ways. It’s an astounding crowd-pleaser of a film. Attack The Block is expertly edited, by Jonathan Amos, engagingly lit by cinematographer Thomas Townend, and the score by Basement Jaxx and Steven Price is looking to reserve permanent GB on your iPod. By the final pair of orchestral cues, your adrenaline will be surging, and your night will be that much more alive. You’ll be charged with the very specific joy of having seen a new favorite movie.
Attack The Block opens in select theaters in the U.S. today, Friday July 29th. Look, you can go see this movie or not. I know I’m headed to see it again. It was eight ways a blast and I want to catch that high again. I only want you to see this thing because I know you’ll love it too. I know it. You love movies. Who doesn’t? Well, this is why we go. We go to movies, hoping every time they’ll be this much fun. Usually they miss the mark. Attack The Block hits, on every possible level. But yeah, you can skip out on it. You can sleep straight through the night. Or you can get up and go see the comet.
Wake up, kid!