Wednesday, 23 March 2016

High-Rise (2016)


It's quite ironic that Elizabeth Moss understands High-Rise enough to take a role in it, yet fails to see the comparison with the 'faith' she belongs to; Scientology. Think about it, the fantastical vision of one prejudiced, difficult man that capitalises on the ambitions, aspirations and elitist yearnings of the public who immerse themselves so deeply into his dream that they fail to see how much the rot has set in. Genuinely, think about it, because she clearly didn't.

Anyway....

JG Ballard's 1975 book High-Rise is one of my favourite novels. Often described since its publication as unfilmable, it's seen a plethora of film makers express an interest in tackling it, including no less a figure than Nic Roeg. But it is Ben Wheatley who has finally brought it to the screen. Watching it today, given my appreciation of the source material, I really hoped Wheatley hadn't fucked it up.

And the good news is, he really hasn't.


Is this Wheatley's best film? Probably. Granted, for me, it's not as entertaining as Sightseers but, just like that film, it shows that he can work with an original idea that does not stem from himself or his wife and screenwriter Amy Jump. High-Rise proves that Wheatley is a director capable of bringing someone else's vision to the screen yet in a manner which allows him total control of his environment. High-Rise is most assuredly, a Ben Wheatley film - with the same pitch black ingredients that made films like Kill List and A Field In England so divisive yet so unmistakably unique and interesting  - but it's equally a very good and respectful adaptation. In short, this is a film-maker maturing. 



Set in the 1970s of Ballard's novel ("a future that has already taken place" as Tom Hiddleston's hero Dr Laing states) High-Rise opens in the very eye of the storm of apocalyptic squalor, with Laing's the prestigious apartment block now a disaster-area as Laing feasts on BBQ'd dog. Flashing back to three months earlier, we see the clean, retro-future brutalist interiors (production designer Mark Tildesley - take a bow) of an elite design for living that will ultimately go on to become a feral prospect.  The higher you go up the block, the wealthier the residents with the pinnacle being the penthouse belonging to the architect himself, Royal (Jeremy Irons - superb casting given his Cronenberg credentials) and his pampered, trophy wife played by Keeley Hawes. The “real families” as represented by Luke Evans's Wilder and the aforementioned Moss as his heavily pregnant wife, Helen, are confined to the apartments nearest the ground, where powercuts are rife and jobsworth regulations keep them at arms length from the dream they were clearly sold. In this micro society, class warfare rages and is handled both with a delicious satirical edge and with sobering prescience. 



As Laing, Tom Hiddleston is magnificent as the character who is "hiding in plain sight" drawing on the elusive complexity that the character has on the page. Currently impressing every Sunday night in The Night Manager on BBC1, Hiddleston brings a similar barely repressed, mercurial danger or past trauma to a performance that is as lean and taut as his physique. Evans was something I must admit I was initially hesitant about as Wilder (I expected someone bulkier, more akin to the rugger bugger styling suggested in the novel) but he actually quickly won me over and perfectly embodies the more base element his character both represents and sets about. Sienna Miller as Charlotte is her usual aloof yet charismatic self, exuding beauty and inhabiting the character so well in terms of her natural look and her playing that you can see why Laing is drawn to her. Lastly, I love that Wheatley cast some 'comic' actors in the mix too; Dan Renton Skinner, Reece Shearsmith, Graham Duff, Julia Deakin and, Wheatley regular, Tony Way, because whilst Ballard freely admitted that much of his work or indeed view of life was shaped by the horrors he endured as a child in a Japanese POW camp (where previously respectable, civilised, middle class human beings became feral scavengers to survive - and people claim his work is far-fetched?) it's worth remembering how darkly funny much of his writing could be. Sienna Guillory's ham glam actress Ann Sheridan proclaiming "Right! Which one of you bastards wants to fuck me up the arse?" is a comic highlight, as is Keeley Hawes coolly asking her hubby Irons to lead a delegation, not to NATO as he jokes, but to ''the supermarket'', where one of the wage slave cashiers (Stacy Martin) is now speaking perfect French after Laing leaves a book behind.



Wheatley's Kubrickian styling is perfectly complimented by Clint Mansell’s brilliant score which echoes much of the synth sounds of the late 70s and features a sublime cover of Abba's SOS by Portishead, used to disturbing effect.

Ending the film with Thatcher's speech on capitalism whilst the precocious young Gove look-a-like Toby, Charlotte's son and - it is said - the architect's 'bastard' - seems to take note is a superb touch too. Toby claims he can see the future through his toy kaleidoscope (a wonderful retro touch for any of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s) and, given the way Cameron's cabinet seems determined to be an 80s tribute government, I think he really can.



2 comments:

  1. Hoping to catch this this week (if I can find somewhere that's still showing it). Your review has encouraged me.

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    1. It's distribution is really poor, only in at very selective cinemas strangely. Mind you, it's that divisive I can't really imagine it going down too well in the mainstream multi cineplexes. Hope you enjoy it mate, and thanks for saying so/stopping by

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