High Rise - Blu-ray
What makes a person?
There are spoilers in this review:
A point that seems to have been lost on many reviewers of this movie, and indeed perhaps on readers of the sourcebook, is that these entertainments are not really about people trapped in an increasingly bizarre block of flats. What Ballard did so admirably in the original 1975 book was ponder on what humans living in a block of flats would really like to do with and to each other, with all layers of social constraint removed. The film makers have attempted to do likewise.
In the film, Ben Wheatley (director), Amy Jump (screenwriter) and long time Ballard fan and collaborator (Jeremy Thomas - producer) have gathered together a cast of actors (Tom Hiddleston, James Purefoy, Sienna Miller, Elizabeth Moss, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Bill Patterson and others) and a set of visual collaborators (set design, costumes, product design) who have got 100% behind this tale of societal collapse and given it their all.
The design and look of the film places the action in a neverwas 1970s. Nothing is quite historically correct, everything looks more like it does in catalogues of the period, or in TV series of the time. We the viewers are not supposed to think this film is actually describing anything which actually did take place - we are to be watching a fable.
The acting talent is a fantastic mash of faces. Tom Hiddleston the colossus of the day, able to flit from Marvel villian to wan vampire to superspy in moments. Luke Evans, a buff, polished figure (remember that torso in Tamara Drewe?) is the current Dracula for the masses. Jeremy Irons, the stately senior. Sienna Miller, constant party girl and occasional squeeze of many a haphazard actor. Elizabeth Moss, TV favorite in 'Mad Men', and of the 'plainer' type.
Though these observations of these actors are trite one sentence soundbites, it is how they have and are portrayed in the media. These actors are actually all quite different in actual persona, with interests and desires different from those printed in the press. Hiddleston and Evans are both rather bookish and neither keen on the flesh fodder roles they can both grab so easily. Jeremy Irons has a vicious tongue, a black streak of humour and in no way is he some kindly old elder gent. Miller and Moss, as women, unfortunately will find it progressively more difficult in our world to find interesting roles through the decades of middleage - Moss has grabbed some interesting roles in genre fiction lately, and Miller can do other things than just look pretty - she was grand in 'Stardust'. In the context of 'High Rise', all these actors have been given the opportunity to mess with these trite opinions, and do things they are not usually cast for. As Laing the physiologist, Hiddleston (though sunbathing naked) at the start of the movie just wants to be left to himself, not be a 'great man' in any form. Evans plays Wilder as a mountainous hunk of spunk and muscle, able to physically crush any human competition, but struck with the inability to actually get anything accomplished requiring mental effort... he vents impotent rage at not being able to break out of himself. Miller uses her attractiveness as a manipulative tool to survive and prosper in the degrading high rise society, whereas Moss gets to do what few women can in a movie, be both pregnant and self centered. She didn't seem exactly crushed when drop those kiddies off in the bizarre, mobile, forraging kindergarden before commencing her ascent skyward. She is not playing 'plain' here.
Perhaps I make too much of the last point. It is not just that the actors are playing to various degrees against type, it is also their commitment to their roles which is so inticing. They are all very convincing, as is the odd world they live in. There is a logic to their universe even if it is oes not operate in the same way as here in the 'real' world. As the film and time within the high rise progresses, the characters want to leave it less and to force their developing personalities onto the high-rise, onto each other, onto the whole universe. Who doesn't want to feel the master of things? Some characters, such as both the Wilder's, want to get to the top of the building. Richard Wilder to remove the societal chip on his shoulder by destroying the architect Irons, his wife to get an easier, and more sensually pleasant life. Laing wants to barricade himself into his isolation (with the option to enjoy the occasional sexual ravaging of another human for momentary relief). Pangbourne (wonderfully played by James Purefoy, going full Mark Anthony) already a dweller in the upper levels, never once considers he is not better than all members of the social ranks below his own, clearly he revels in the breakdown which allows for the casual murder of anyone who might approach his pinnacle.
Is the film a mess?
Well, the third act is rather chaotic, as scenes and days are jumbled together into chunks of only several seconds, or even frames, duration - we see Moss pregnant and in rigourous physical activity with Hiddleston amongst scenes of vicious hallway batterings and fire. To me, this temporal swirl is in ideal way of showing the overriding desire, indeed NEED, of the inhabitants to behave as they truly want to - to become what they truly are. Hiddleston drive back to the residence from work with an etched terror on his face: he hates to be parted from the building, his internal fortress. Evans is giving and taking beating after beating, and actually calms down in this section of the film: he is as he should be. Moss and Irons likewise. They have reached their mental destinations, and before the swimming pool is quite full of slowly rotting corpses.
Is the adaptation faithful?
Oh, well, there is the odd new character, Laing does not have a living sister to sleep with and there are a few changes here and there, but these do not matter a toss. This is a perfect Ballard adaptation, his opinion of humanity, and the internal mindsets of the races individual members, is realised with gusto.
Do we 'learn' anything?
It is fun to ponder on how we, or our loved ones, may behave in this setup, as one might in 'Lord of the Flies'.
Summary: Cracking stuff! Better than 'Crash', as good as 'Home', top notch adaptation. Few sci-fi books have been this well treated in the transfer of medium.
A nice jolly commentary with Hiddleston, Wheatley, and Thomas. Some nice interviews with many of the cast, some other bits and bobs of less significance. Nice set of art cards.