RogerBW's Blog

Attack the Block 09 February 2023

2011 science fiction, dir. Joe Cornish, John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker: IMDb / allmovie. The aliens picked on the wrong gang.

I've seen a lot of films that try to send a social message, and they often do it very badly. Here's one that does it well, in large part because of what it doesn't say.

It doesn't say that Moses and the rest of his gang are suffering from absent fathers, poor role models, whatever else, but at the same time it makes it clear that nobody (including them) expects them to be anything but petty criminals, and maybe if they're really good at that one day they might achieve grand criminality.

It doesn't say that if you just give these guys something to believe in, something to fight for, they will be redeemed; they aggressively don't have character arcs, but switch masks depending on their social contexts. The Moses that Sam sticks up for at the end is the same person who robbed her at knife-point at the beginning. If they met again, with his gang standing behind him and her looking scared in front of him, he'd do it again, because anything else would mean losing face in front of the gang. He probably didn't want to do it the first time. Even among the limited number of films that accept toxic masculinity as a thing and try to portray it in a negative light, very few do such a good job of showing how hollow it is even when you're the guy on top of the heap.

Oh and there's an alien invasion story too. That's interesting in itself, because usually invasions are met by the forces of officialdom; here there's no sign that anyone who didn't personally observe the fireballs even knows anything is going on. No evacuation orders, no loudspeaker cars; these people wouldn't expect help from the police anyway, but even as an outside observer one can see that it won't be coming.

The mechanics of how the monster works don't make a lot of sense (how do they get into space? How do they concentrate numbers over interplanetary or interstellar distances? Do they hibernate?) but more seriously they're handled in one exposition scene in which the single character with Science! skill makes a lot of wild guesses… which all turn out to be right, or at least right enough to come up with a way to survive the attacks.

Key shot: after the explosion, when Moses is dangling out of a broken window, nobody's in a position to help him and he gets himself to safety. Yes. This is a scriptwriter-director who gets his characters.

If you want more of my witterings, you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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