Cannes 2011 Review: A Brit’s Take On Joe Cornish’s ‘Attack the Block’

Attack the Block has of course already screened in America, at SXSW, and FSR already have a review live, thanks to Brian Salisbury and let’s be honest, no matter what I write here, I’m not likely to meet the mastery of that particular article. But then, I wouldn’t want to, and I honestly feel as strongly about the excellent British film as Brian does, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to review the film slightly differently, in order that my article can stand as more of a companion piece to Brian’s. And there’s the also the small matter of me being British as well, which will no doubt mean what I’m about to write will be full of patriotic bluster and lashings of jingoistic pride, what what.

The short version is I adored it. I had initially been skeptical that the film was too specifically parochial for its own good: the London estates it is set in could well be a different world from the North Eastern area I live in, even though issues of poverty are unavoidable in areas of both, and sub-cultures have appeared in response to those conditions. My problem was that the trailer suggested a film of limited scope, and a definitely restricted demographic (something that I thought confirmed when it was rumored that the film would get subtitles for the US release), which would appeal very strongly to the kind of people it depicts, but not necessarily to film-goers throughout the rest of the UK and the wider world.

I needn’t have been concerned. The film transcends the limits of its specific local identity by ranking high in the genre stakes. What could have been a brainless, toothless horror directed at video gamers, ends up being a modern classic that references its generic heritage heavily and with due respect. It is as fine a genre film as I have seen.

The political message that cuts an electric undertone through proceedings is unavoidable – as Salisbury says, the film is invested in drawing a portrait of modern Britain, and the manner in which it marginalizes those sub-cultures that are deemed dangerous, or atypical by normal, middle class standards. This is a story of ostracized outsiders, who feel so failed by the system that they close ranks on their estate, preferring to let the Block police its own mess rather than calling for help to an institution (the police) that immediately categories them as “dangerous” based on their fashions and behavior. And the conceit of manifesting the tide of bad feeling towards them as actual monsters is an ingenious move.

Director Joe Cornish is offering no apology to the hoodies he sees as being victimized though – they are both sinned against and sinning, and while they are partially forgivable as the inevitable products of a blinkered system, they are also to be held accountable for their actions. You’ll find no bleeding heart Save The Children motif here either, because, despite the deaths and the overall feeling of being let down by the system, the kids’ stories in Attack the Block end up being defined by triumph and survival.

Attack the Block is something of a spiritual sibling of Edgar Wright’s Blood and Ice Cream trilogy (the finale of which I am positively bursting to see), and it is no surprise to see Wright exec-producing for his mate Cornish (who he has also worked together with on the upcoming Tin Tin and Ant-man movies – if that one ever arrives), or Nick Frost adding some authenticity to proceedings as part of the cast either. There is certainly a similar spirit to both, though there is less parody at work here, and all three films are unashamedly punctuated by a distinctly British identity, and that typically self-effacing brand of humor that seems part and parcel of our filmic and TV exports these latter years.

Aside from Frost, the rest of the cast is great,  especially for a group made up largely of new-comers, and their success is marked most by the fact that they are believable characters, since there is only a small chance that they can be fully relatable, beyond feeling some immediately sympathy for their conditions. John Boyega shines as Moses, the unwitting hero of the piece, but really everyone plays their part, even those who are quite gruesomely dispatched between the jaws of the monsters – and those that are have already built up a likeability factor that makes their deaths far more emotionally engaging than you tend to see in other genre efforts.

So, yeah – basically, Salisbury and I agree – Attack the Block is great. And if it does come to a cinema near you, I urge you to take the opportunity. Seriously.

Finally, something also must be said about the soundtrack, which was put together by UK dance scene stalwarts Basement Jaxx, and which is definitely the greatest thing to assault your ears since Daft Punk blew everyone away with their Tron Legacy work. It seems that choosing an established musical act, and especially one which has the specific technical skills that come with mixology is a damn fine way to score a film, and one that other films should follow suit.

The Upside: It’s fucking great all round. Or, in the parlance of the characters “It’s bare nang, fam. Believe.”

The Downside: I’m struggling to think of any at all. Maybe that I don’t get to experience that first-time viewing experience ever again?

Remember to follow me on Twitter for more on-site observations. You can also check out my other filmic writings at

Cannes coverage continues…

Born to the mean streets of Newcastle, England the same year that BMX Bandits was cruelly over-looked for the Best Film Oscar, Simon Gallagher's obsessive love of all things cinema blossomed during that one summer in which he watched Clueless every day for six weeks. This is not a joke. Eventually able to wean himself off that particular dirty habit, and encouraged by the revelation that was One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, he then spent many years reviewing films on the underground scene, throwing away thousands of pounds on a Masters Degree in English in the process, before landing feet-first at the doors of British movie site, where you can catch his blend of rapier wit and morbid sardony on a daily basis. Simon is also a hopeless collector of film paraphenalia, and counts his complete Star Wars Mr. Potato Heads collection among his friends.

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