"Attack the Block" is very easily one of the best new films of 2011, and it's unfortunate that the film did not receive a whole lot of attention here in the United States, despite positive praise from critics. I guess like most sci-fi films, especially British features like "Attack the Block," will in time become cult classics like so many others before it.
People have often compared this film to "Gremlins" (1984) and "The Goonies" (1985). That's a fair comparison, but an inaccurate one, I feel. I think a better, more accurate comparison for "Attack the Block" would be "Menace II Society" (1993) and "The Warriors" (1979) meets "Critters" (1986) and "Alien" (1979).
"Attack the Block" is science fiction in the 21st century at its fastest, funniest and goriest, with its own unique version of un-preachy social commentary about slum life. The latter part brings me to the most widely debated aspect of this picture: unlike most sci-fi movies, the heroes of "Attack the Block" are not the military, police, brainy scientists, or determined everyday civilians. No, the "heroes" of this film are five violent teenage thugs who on any other night would continue to rob, harass, and beat up any South Londoner unfortunate enough to cross their paths.
But the wow-factor of "Attack the Block" comes from the fact that this is no ordinary night in South London for this scrappy band of teenage hoodlums. The leading five young toughs at the center of this picture - hard-as-nails gang leader Moses (Jon Boyega), fireworks-loving pyromaniac Pest (Alex Esmail), nerd-ish Jerome (Leeon Jones), mo-hawked Dennis (Franz Drameh), and the daredevil Biggz (Simon Howard) - in the beginning of the film are in the process of mugging Nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) after she's just gotten off work. Although the gang seizes many of her belongings, before they can do any further harm to her a meteorite crashes into a nearby car. Sam takes off back to her apartment in the midst of the confusion.
The five youths investigate the crashed meteorite and find themselves confronted by a nasty, scaly reptilian extraterrestrial monstrosity that is brutally dispatched in just one of the film's many young-toughs-vs.-bad-ass-alien-monster confrontations throughout the entire night. Led by the fearless, hardened Moses, the five stock up on baseball bats, swords, knives, Super Soakers, and any other degree of improvised weaponry that they can scrape up in time to confront an alien invasion head-on. And somewhere in there, five remorseless young thugs go from being remorseless young thugs to brave young heroes, however marginalized, over the course of one bloody, fright-filled night on the streets - and later an apartment complex - of a rough South London neighborhood. But it is worth noting, however, that the gang's actions aren't motivated so much by saving humanity from an extraterrestrial infestation as they are initiating a form of urban territorial-ism (they're defending the "block" - that term comes up a lot here - from beastly outsiders).
I have to say that it is unfortunate that this film asks us to empathize with, even grow to like, a gang of brutal South London punks who are all that stands between us and furry, bear-wolf-like alien monsters that seem to consist mostly of green luminescent teeth. It is also unfortunate that in well-known American movie classics like "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), "The Wild Bunch" (1969), "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) and countless others, we're asked to sympathize with gun-toting bank robbers, aging outlaws and murderous jewel thieves, respectively, but we nonetheless respect those movies for whatever reasons we find those pictures worth praising.
So why can't we do the same for a group of five young toughs from a poor section of South London? I found these characters remarkably three-dimensional and well-written by writer-director Joe Cornish (in his film debut) because these kids realize that they're not the most dangerous things on the streets on this particular night. And they also realize that because of where they live, calling the authorities is out of the question, because, why would the police or fire department ever venture into such a rough section of the city were it not absolutely necessary (and without a military escort)? Even Sam, through spoiler-revealing plot details that I refuse to divulge, joins the gang and eventually comes to see that things with the five youths are way more complicated than they appear. They're impoverished and from bad backgrounds and prey on the weaknesses of others (like her) because they can, yes, but again they've realized that they're fighting something that is far beyond your typical rival gangs or vengeful neighborhood drug dealers.
For me personally, I found the young toughs in "Attack the Block" to be truly sympathetic for the fact that they're kids facing a terrifying enemy and as such, are not totally beyond some form of minor redemption as a result of their actions (as this film's ending proves). Out of the characters, it is Jon Boyega's determined portrayal of gang leader Moses that he becomes the most bold and "heroic" of the five (even though I'm somewhat partial to calling smart-alecky explosives-expert Pest my favorite of them all); Moses is forced to confront the grim reality of his lifestyle and the pain that it's brought to those he's victimized and where it might eventually lead him in the long run. It's a daring performance from a virtual nobody that can't be copied by someone who's more experienced as an actor.
Since this movie's from the producers of "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), it features some hilarious moments of much-needed comedy relief, provided mostly by pot dealer Ron ("Shaun" Nick Frost) and his #1 customer, stoner college student Brewis (Luke Treadaway). Lastly, the movie was released in the wake of the London riots earlier this summer and adds an eerie prescience to everything. "Attack the Block" is only the most surprising sci-fiaction movie of the year.
Review by dee.reid from the Internet Movie Database.