Attack the Block

I heard other movie reviewers and bloggers raving about this film all summer.  When it finally came to my theater, it was only here for a week.  It didn’t get marketed the same way many other films are, so a lot of people who probably would have loved it didn’t know about it.  Well, I’m glad I got the chance to see it, because I loved it!  It is not for everyone, because it’s rated R for some violent death scenes and for language, (but it’s cussing with an accent!  See my dialogue analysis here), but it was different from your typical hero-vs-alien story, and it had one of the best character arcs of the summer.

Fair warning, this review is pretty spoiler-y.  Stop reading now if you don’t want to know what happens.

In the beginning, we see Sam, a young nurse, walking home amidst sidewalk chaos and fireworks (because it’s Guy Fawkes Day).  She is accosted and mugged by a gang of juvenile delinquents, led by the toughest of the little tough guys, Moses.  (I don’t really think he’s comparable to the Biblical Moses figure, except that he leads the group.)  The mugging is interrupted by something falling from the sky and crash-landing into a nearby parked car.  It’s a creature, that claws Moses’ face when he investigates, and then runs off.  Filled with furious anger, Moses leads his gang after alien to exact a violent revenge.

And boy, is it violent.  The boys’ group kill was very reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, the way they all join in and chant around the dead body afterwards.  I was a little shocked by how violent they were, how they were so easily persuaded to join in a murderous act.  But it’s not that much of a stretch for them, growing up on the streets in this neighborhood where strength and violence rule, (as demonstrated by the drug-dealing Hi-Hatz, who perpetually pulls out a gun and spits “this is my block!”).  The boys are pretty proud of themselves, thinking they’ve somehow proven their manhood.  And Moses accepts an invitation by Hi-Hatz to become on of “his” boys and climb that social ladder.  Because that’s legitimately the path he sees as being the most successful.

But then, the boys see more capsules meteoring to earth.  And they rile themselves up to go “killin’ ’em straight up!”, only to find that these new creatures are bigger, fiercer, and more dangerous and deadly than their first extraterrestrial victim.  But before they can make it safely back indoors, Sam identifies the hoodlums and the police arrest Moses, locking him inside their van just before they are conveniently eaten by aliens.  The rest of the gang distract the aliens (with firecrakcers) and free Sam and Moses from the police van.

“Ain’t you gonna thank us for saving your life?” snaps Moses.  “My [effing] hero,” responds a still-angry-about-being-mugged Sam, yet she stays with the gang for the rest of the film (out of necessity).  At one point, a boy spouts logic that he probably learned from watching movies and concedes, well, yeah, we attacked her, but then we saved her, so everything was cool.  “We’re heroes,” he proclaims. Sam’s assessment of the situation is less romantic; “Five of you with knives against one woman?  [Eff] off.”  I liked that this story didn’t gloss over the boys’ faults, and didn’t add to the plethora of films that proclaim past errors can be negated by a noble deed or a grand gesture.

is it safer to stay in the elevator, or make a run for it down the hall?

It’s the same message that one of the characters has for Moses, when it becomes clear that the aliens are targeting him:

“You know that little one you killed before?  That was a mistake.  Actions have consequences, y’know?  Everywhere you go bad things happen.  Stay away from us, Moses.”

Eventually, accepting that he is responsible for all the destruction and casualties that the results of his actions led to, Moses prepares to embark on a last-ditch, suicidal solo mission to save what’s left of his friends, as well as the innocents in the neighborhood at large.  He has experienced and learned enough in the last hour to look back at that savage beating of the crash-landed alien in the beginning as a serious mistake;

“Wish I’d never chased after that thing….I killed that thing.  I brought dem in da block.  I’ve gotta finish what we started.”

In the aftermath of the planet-saving, alien-ending explosions, the police catch up with Moses again and re-arrest him.  The friends and neighbors that witnessed the earlier extraterrestrial terrors and Moses’ brave, self-sacrificing final stand and booing the police and chanting for their new hero, but the movie ends with Moses in handcuffs in a police van.  I love this ending, because it’s in keeping with everything else the story had said up to that point–actions have consequences, one good deed doesn’t outweigh a bad one.  And Moses did pull a knife on Sam and rob her, he was trafficking illegal substances, he fled the scene of a crime, etc.  And he still has to account for those actions.  He’s smiling, though, at the recognition from at least a segment of society, that he’s worth something, and it leaves me with a hopeful feeling that he won’t continue to look up to someone like Hi-Hatz as an example of manhood to aspire to.

Moses, the unlikely hero

It’s pretty obvious that another message in this movie is a social commentary on the way poor urban communities are overlooked or negatively stereotyped. It’s implied that Moses and his gang are at least in part products of their environment, neglected, underprivileged, and trapped.  The boys are on the front lines fighting the invading aliens, and their efforts are never overshadowed or overtaken by experienced military or SWAT teams (like you would expect from most alien invasion movies) in part because no-one believes them.  And I guess the chaos that they cause in the neighborhood just isn’t noticed as unusual or unexpected by the outside authorities.  So the old “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” adage applies here, I suppose; you might label someone as a no-good hooligan, but they might be saving your life..from aliens.  Maybe people just need to be given a chance, to show they are capable of rising to greatness, like  Moses.

Overall, this was just a tremendously fun movie to watch.  The storytelling was excellent, the pacing was great, it was alternately suspenseful, emotional, shocking, scary, heart-warming, fist-pumping, and hilarious.  Moses’ maturation in one bizarre night is thrilling and inspiring, and while it doesn’t directly correspond to any Biblical parallels that I can think of, I’d call this a must-watch.  If you’re old enough.

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One thought on “Attack the Block

  1. Pingback: Digest Movies: pagelady’s Top 5 2011 Summer Movies | Digest Movies

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