Friday, November 17, 2017

Movie Review - High-Rise

Based on the book by J.G. Ballard
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Louis Suc, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, Jeremy Irons, Keeley Hawes, Sienna Guillory, Enzo Cilenti, James Purefoy, Dan Renton Skinner, Stacy Martin, Louis Suc, Toby Williams, Peter Ferdinando, Reece Shearsmith, Augustus Prew, Tony Way, Bill Paterson, Leila Mimmack, Neil Maskell, Julia Deakin, Dylan Edwards, and Fenella Woolgar
Release Date: September 13th, 2015
Rating: ★
To Buy

Following the death of his sister, Doctor Robert Laing moves into a 25th floor studio apartment in a luxurious modern 40 story high-rise. Every modern convenience is taken care of. You'd never actually have to leave the building, and soon that becomes the case, more out of need than necessity. Being in the middle of the building Laing is more open to befriend those both above and below him. He starts seeing an attractive single mother from the floor above, and befriends a family, the Wilders, from a lower floor. But Laing will ascend to the heights when he's invited to the penthouse, where the building's architect Anthony Royal lives. Laing comes to a party which he didn't know was fancy dress, humiliated and thrown out of the party with one of his own medical students looking on he becomes trapped in the elevator in a power outage that is to become commonplace, not a rarity. Due to a series of fortuitous circumstances Laing is able to get revenge on his uppity student, but that student's subsequent suicide seems to be the catalyst for the complete disintegration of law and order within the high-rise. The power outages have been followed by the water being shut off and garbage chutes overflowing. The infrastructure of the building is failing and Royal might just be keeping the authorities away as the building devolves into outright warfare. This isn't "growing pains" this is a microcosm of civilization tearing the class system to shreds. But there is one person who has a plan. Richard Wilder plans to take off the head of the beast. Anthony Royal will die at his hands, what happens next doesn't matter.  

Here is a sentence I never thought I'd write: There are some things that even Tom Hiddleston's bare ass can't fix. I know! This is a shocking revelation to me as well. But High-Rise is one of those high concept adaptations that has literally been in development since the book was written in the 1970s and never really found the right team to shepherd it to the big screen. And yes, I am including the team that actually made this movie, because seriously, it's two hours of my life I want back. A fairly straightforward book was made into a bizarre orgiastic incoherent mess that critics just gobbled up and audiences hated. It's more like a hedonistic verging on incomprehensible overly long music video than a film. There's no structure, just writhing bodies. And such bodies! I mean, the talent on board here is astonishing: Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Keeley Hawes, James Purefoy! I could go on and on because this is like a dream cast with the cream of the crop taken from British television and cinema but if High-Rise proves one point, you can get the best actors in the world and if the vision isn't there, if the writing doesn't shine, if the plot is nonexistent, they can in no way save the film. As I shockingly said before, not even Hiddlesbum could save this mess. Though perhaps we can throw a little blame at Elisabeth Moss? She's destroying dystopian adaptations left and right these days... 

What confused me most about this adaptation is why oh why did they decide to make it period? Yes, this is 100% enshrined in 70s glory. This was the biggest mistake they could have made. The reason the book actually works is that there is a universality to it, so while it was written in the 70s you can totally see it happening now. This specificity of period makes it dated and implausible. Yes, I say implausible. Because if this uprising had occurred, if this past had happened, then the future we live in would be different. There's a reason dystopian literature is either in an alternate timeline or in the near future. This makes it believable. The world we live in could take a turn into a giant dumpster fire and then we're there. We have reached dystopia. Having this horror happen in the past and then forgotten while Margaret Thatcher talks on the radio? Um, no. What's more is the era went on to inform the sets and the costumes. This leads to the audience having a disconnect. I kept thinking, oh look, there's something I vaguely remember from my childhood, or the Wilder's apartment has a vague Star Wars feel to it, Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen must have been called in to decorate. There was no immediacy to the story and the horrors within. I couldn't connect because this 70s framework was a distancing device. But the biggest flaw? Don't model your high-rise lobby off a set from the original Battlestar Galactica.  

The embracing of the 70s aesthetic goes deeper into destroying this film than you might think. As I've mentioned there's a disconnect by having the story take place in the past versus the present or near future, but more than that by having it set in the 70s the film isn't a commentary on the universality of human behavior but a commentary on human behavior during this specific time. Despite what may or may not have happened in the 70s it's come to mean certain things in popular culture. It's viewed as a time of excess, drugs, drinks, and swingers! Where cops didn't have to answer for killing the occasional criminal and justice was sometimes gotten in the most nefarious of ways. Therefore we already have these preconceptions of the 70s and to have this acted out on screen it just seems a product of the time, the 70s was the catalyst, not man's base nature. It's like the director and the writer, who happens to be the directors wife, just didn't get it. The book is a statement of human nature and the devolution of man, and the movie is just "wow, things were crazy in the 70s weren't they?" And in that last scene with Margaret Thatcher coming on the radio? Are they trying to make the film into a political statement of what Thatcher did to England? Because that's a cheap shot. Trying to tag your own message on when you couldn't even properly convey the author's message.

With this bizarre music video style the whole film contains there is one scene, and one scene only that I think captured the essence of the book while creating a new spin on it, letting the filmmakers leave their stamp on the classic book, all while still feeling like an homage to the Annie Lennox "Walking on Broken Glass" video. Doctor Laing is invited to a party in the penthouse. Anthony Royal and his wife are throwing a fancy dress party and the theme is the French court of Marie Antoinette, which of course they didn't bother to tell their guest from the lowly 25th floor. Why is this so perfect? Well the book, not the movie, is about the stratification of the classes within the high-rise and how those lower down are trying to topple those at the top. What happened in France as a result of the excesses of Marie Antoinette and her court was The French Revolution, off with their heads and all that. What is happening within the microcosm of the high-rise is what happened on a larger scale in France. The filmmakers are grounding what is happening in the high-rise with historical precedence, which I think is the only time in two hours of rubbish where I almost liked the film. For that brief instance they got it. Also with the cover of ABBA's "SOS" by Portishead we get a wonderful double meaning, triple if you really want to bother with the whole 70s of the thing. What we get with the song is a menacing warning to those decadent partiers that their time has come, but also a warning that what happens in the high-rise stays in the high-rise. There will be no one coming to save ANY of them. Now if only they burned the whole thing to the ground, film and all I might be satisfied.


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