Joe Cornish’s directorial debut, Attack the Block, is one of the most impressive first films I have ever seen by a director. It is an action packed film with impressive visuals, exhilarating action, engaging loveable characters, and a decent amount of heart. Not bad for your first time out.
Attack the Block has a pretty simple set up. At least in theory. Moses is the leader of a gang of young street kids in south London. When aliens crash land in their neighborhood, these kids are the only line of defense for their large apartment complex known as The Block. In reality, these kids protect their neighborhood from a threat in what is simultaneously a redemption and coming of age tale.
Moses is played by John Boyega, a young actor that gives an incredible performance in the role. This is the actor’s first performance, which is very difficult to believe. Boyega brings a lot of power to the role, easily believable as the leader of his gang. This power also makes it believable that in the midst of the chaos of the alien attack, even adults would begin to follow his lead. But it isn’t an in your face power, he isn’t constantly yelling out orders. It is a quiet power. Moses always has a plan, even if it isn’t a great one, but he will take control of the situation when it needs it. This means that Boyega carries the film on his shoulders, a lot to ask of any actor, let alone one that is young and inexperienced, but Boyega pulls it off. This is a starmaking role for him.
Another first timer on the project was cinematographer Thomas Townend. Attack the Block is Townend’s first time working as the director of photography on a feature film. He came to the attention of director Joe Cornish through his work in commercials. Cornish was looking for a cinematographer that could shoot night scenes and maintain contrast levels, as well as light actors of varying skin tones in the same frame. He found the man for the job. Townend’s cinematography is gorgeous. Rarely have I seen night look this dynamic and deep. Even thought the entire movie is set within the time span of a single night, the film never looks dark or muddy. It looks positively vibrant.
Joe Cornish also wrote the script for Attack the Block. It’s a well written script that has some of the most realistic dialogue I’ve ever heard for kids. Cornish spent a lot of time interviewing kids to understand how they speak and the slang they use. It really shows as every kid in this movie has a unique voice that sounds organic to the character, which is hard to do for adult characters, let alone children.
Also, Cornish’s script recognizes what it is, which is very important in a movie that combines so many elements. This film has action, horror, alien invasions, gang violence, gore, redemption, and plenty of humor as well. It would be easy for this movie to become muddled, but Cornish picks out the important details. This movie is about the kids, it is their story. So the alien invasion is never explained, the creatures are never given a true name, because that isn’t important to the story being told. Instead, we see the aliens through the kids eyes, we know them by the name the kids give them: gorilla wolf motherfuckers. It’s a smart decision which concentrates the story on the kids and their coming of age and allows the other elements to flow from that.
One very impressive thing to note about Attack the Block is that no one is safe. Whenever kids battle forces like this in movies, you know that they are all going to come out the other side more or less okay. Not in this film. It is made clear early on in this film that no one is off limits. This creates genuine stakes and even more compassion for the characters because they are actually in danger of dying, which is a very rare thing in a movie starring children. It’s a bold move that pays off well.
That characterizes Cornish’s entire film. It is a film filled with risks both on screen and off. A first time director pairs with a first time director of photography and a cast of first time actors for a story about an alien invasion where children have to fight off the aliens and could die in the process. Yet, every risk pays off. Cornish gets amazing performances out of the kids. Townend’s cinematography is breathtaking. Boyega carries the film with impressive skill. And the story itself is thrilling, funny, exciting, and, in the end, moving in a way few films have been this year. Attack the Block is an absolute must-see movie.
In case you need anymore convincing, check out the trailer.