Captain America: Civil War – It’s time to pick a side in one of Marvel’s best films to date

•September 5, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

With superhero and comic book films gradually becoming a cinematic cornerstone over the years, it can often feel like an increasingly hard game of spot-the-difference as the releases keep piling up. While I’m a big fan, the origin stories, goodies vs. baddies, and endless fights can often (and inevitably) get repetitive in the costume-wearing world. However there are a few films trying to shake things up and break the usual mould: take Iron Man Three (2013) with its inventive spin on the traditional villain, or Ant-Man (2015) which skipped on the original comic book incarnation of the superhero (Hank Pym) to instead tell the story of his successor (Scott Lang). And recently Deadpool (2016) smashed the cycle even more with its gory violence and adult humour, plus cool fourth wall breaking and meta-references galore. While Captain America: Civil War (2016) might not be as self-referential or light-hearted as that, it too offers a wholly different take on the superhero universe – one which spectacularly surpasses what we have to come to expect from an already well-established comic book film franchise. Consider the bar well and truly raised…

Returning director duo The Russo Brothers (aka. Anthony and James Russo) don’t waste a moment of the extended running time they’ve been given (at 2 hours and a half it’s the longest Marvel film yet) spectacularly kicking off the action within the first few opening scenes. Cue yet more of the breathtakingly choreographed fight sequences that worked so well in their previous instalment Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), as well as a brilliant introduction to a new baddie from that same film (and who is played with pleasingly gruff intensity by Frank Grillo). With big action set pieces and the usual MacGuffin that the newly established group of Avengers have to steal back from the other side (here a biohazard of some sort), Civil War begins like every other comic book film we’ve seen before; albeit an impressive one. However it is after this exciting introductory sequence that the real story kicks in, The Russos spinning what could have been another carbon copy superhero film into a mature, fascinating tale about politics, power, and who is really in control.

A tense standoff...

While this sequel is a continuation of the thrillingly darker tone that The Russos chose for The Winter Soldier, a lot of it comes directly from the source graphic novel written by Mark Miller. A gripping tale that explores a world becoming increasingly disenfranchised with superheroes – a world that sees them causing as much damage as the very evils they fight – Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay deviates slightly from Miller’s story, yet still focuses on the tensions created when political powers call for the heroes to be controlled. Pretty soon those fractures aren’t just felt across the world…they’re felt between the Avengers themselves.

Civil War pleasingly twists and turns, The Russos keeping us on our toes throughout and throwing in some outstanding action-packed scenes to really make for an intense ride. An incredible sequence towards the end of the film involving an airport runway is the best yet, with superb fights and the odd dose of humour (especially when Ant-Man shows the rest of the team what he can really do). Indeed, although this is the most grounded and emotional of all the Marvel films so far, it is also the most fun. The Russos ensure to keep a vein of comedy running throughout – a touch that has become a staple of Marvel films and which prevents proceedings from getting too murky. Most of the laughs this time come from a brilliant new incarnation of everybody’s favourite webbed superhero (played by a bright-eyed Tom Holland who is clearly in his element here). Overenthusiastic and geekily so, it is the best turn of the character we’ve seen on film so far, one that makes you excited to see his solo outing next year.

Cap (Chris Evans) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) meet Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)...

However it is another new addition that really makes Civil War stand out from its predecessors. Black Panther is a character people have been eagerly waiting to see onscreen, and The Russos have truly given him an introduction worthy of his iconic status. Black Panther’s appearance, and in fact the whole of Civil War, is also a prime example of everything that the Marvel films do best, particularly in comparison to recent DC films (Batman v Superman (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016)). While these titles quickly throw together new characters with mildly entertaining results, they inevitably fall flat as they fail to generate any sort of feeling or interest for them. Instead Marvel takes the time to build up their back stories, with perfect performances creating wholly realistic characters we want to see time and time again. Even without a Black Panther solo film (although there is one coming), we already understand the difficult journey he has to go on, Chadwick Boseman’s powerful and emotional performance drawing us in and hinting at a wealth of secrets about the character that will surely be explored down the line.

But let’s face it, while it’s exciting to see these new characters, what Civil War is really about is a continuation of one central relationship that has been seen throughout all the Captain America films: Steve and Bucky. Civil War is without a doubt Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan’s finest hour, the two effortlessly building on their characters from the previous films and once again portraying their complicated friendship with ease. Evans in particular continues to perfectly convey the complex character arc Steve has experienced through each of the films – from perfect superhero, to reluctant fighter, and here to something else again. It is also a joy to see him opposite Robert Downey Jr. again, another actor who gets better with each Marvel film he appears in. Here Downey Jr. shows how Stark has become even more conflicted over whether the Avengers cause more problems than they solve, a fact that leads to some brilliantly taut standoffs between him and Steve. It’s mature moments like this which really give Civil War its edge, and make it worth revisiting time and time again.

Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve try to talk things out...

Captain America: Civil War is an absolute masterclass in getting a comic book film right. Fresh and fun, intense and entertaining, The Russos have spectacularly outdone themselves and created a sequel that is up there with The Avengers (2012) as the greatest entry in the Marvel universe. However with the director duo taking the wheel on the next Avengers film, Infinity War, they might just surpass even this. I for one will be waiting in eager anticipation to see if they manage to do so.

Green Room – Punk rock thrills and backstage spills at the gig from hell

•May 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Green Room (2015)

Those who saw Jeremy Saulnier’s breakout last film, Blue Ruin (2013), will have witnessed an exhilarating tale about a character’s vengeful, bloody journey, and a superior drama that has as much quiet tension as it does relentless action. Saulnier’s latest film is equally filled with taut moments and horrifying incidents, but with the action this time primarily taking place in one location. Yet what Green Room (2015) lacks in multiple settings, it more than makes up for with expert pacing, plot twists, and suspense, in an effective thriller that offers a fresh angle on the usual high concept genre film.

Almost feeling as if it is set within the same grimy walls of the club featured at the start of Blue Ruin, this hell hole is at first miles away for young punk rock band ‘The Ain’t Rights’. With a slow, unassuming start, Saulnier gradually eases us into his story, taking the time to introduce us to his characters who are coming to the end of a failed tour. Siphoning gas to get from gig to gig, they are the very definition of the term ‘struggling musicians’, so it’s no surprise that when someone offers them an impromptu show, they gladly take it. Little do they know that what awaits them is a room full of neo-Nazis, a ruthless owner (Patrick Stewart), and a bloody act that leaves them locked in a room and fighting for their lives.

Patrick Stewart and Macon Blair in Green Room...

It is when they witness this act that Green Room suddenly becomes a relentless thrill ride until the end, the air constantly thick with tension as Saulnier barely gives his characters, or us, a moments rest. Saulnier’s script twists and turns, putting interesting new spins on the usual thriller clichés and constantly keeping you on your toes as you watch. Just when you think you’ve figured out where it’s heading or how the group might survive, Saulnier takes a completely unexpected direction, resulting in a genuinely effective drama that packs more than a few gut-punching moments, especially when the characters we’ve grown to know are subjected to unspeakable horrors.

The impact we feel in these terrifying moments is also down to the stunning performances from the young leads, each of them adding genuine sensitivity to their roles which makes their characters, and the story, that much more realistic. Their convincing portrayals also mean that their transgressions from potential survivors, to fierce warriors, is that much more believable, especially for the more passive characters of the band played by Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat, as well as Imogen Poots as a bystander who becomes trapped in the green room with them.

Alia Shawkat and Anton Yelchin rocking out as The Ain't Rights...

The one location setting could have been in danger of becoming repetitive or trite, but Saulnier constantly throws in fresh ideas in a truly impressive thriller that barely stops to breathe. Brilliant performances, in particular from the young cast members, as well as a slow build-up, mean that the film is that much more powerful, and not least because of a liberal use of gore and other shocking moments. With Blue Ruin and now Green Room under his belt, it certainly will be interesting to see where this writer-director heads next. Hopefully somewhere equally as thrilling.

(Originally posted on The Digital Fix:

The Hateful Eight – A cabin full of strangers makes for Tarantino’s most intense ride yet

•May 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Finely crafted dialogue, uber-cool soundtrack, references galore, a perfect cast, and OTT violence: a Quentin Tarantino film is always easy to spot, no matter what genre the writer-director is in. Yet at first glance, Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) seems to be wildly different – a Western set in one location that is of a much slower pace. Don’t be fooled though…this is one of the most Tarantino-esque films so far, delivering all of his trademarks while also stepping in an exciting, sophisticated direction, resulting in a taut thriller that is one of Tarantino’s greatest works.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Sweeping, snowy vistas accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s spine-tingling score is what greets us during The Hateful Eight’s majestic title sequence – another iconic Tarantino feature (just think of the slo-mo opening walk in Reservoir Dogs (1992), the airport travelator in Jackie Brown (1997), or the rocky terrain of Django Unchained (2012)). Giving the film an immediate sense of grandeur and event, it’s also very much Tarantino’s way of directly telling us that we are in for a real treat: a true Western of epic proportions and an unforgettable viewing experience.

Slowly making its way through that gorgeous snowy landscape is a stagecoach containing the bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his latest prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who are heading to Red Rock where she will be brought to justice. But a horrific blizzard soon puts a stop to that plan. Picking up some other unwanted passengers along the way, they stop for shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they meet a few more strange characters and Tarantino’s intricate tale really begins.

Tarantino takes time in his script to introduce each of these characters, building up their individual stories while also building up an undercurrent of issues around race, gender and politics amongst a backdrop of post-Civil War tensions. Instead of feeling like an essay on each though, he uses these to tease us with underlying hints about who these people really are, pulling us into the narrative as it becomes clear to John Ruth, and us, that one of the eight might be not just be there to try Minnie’s home-cooked stew. As lies are uncovered and tensions rise, The Hateful Eight becomes a thrilling, relentless ride, as well as a killer Western and a terrific whodunnit that always keeps us guessing.

John Ruth (Kurt Russell) meets Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson)...

And yet ‘tense’ is almost too soft a word to use to describe this. Using his familiar dialogue-filled scenes throughout the majority of the film, Tarantino amps up these moments tenfold, creating some of the most gripping cinematic moments you’re likely to see for a long while. His dialogue is as usual like music, words flowing beautifully back and forth between these pitch-perfect characters, each fleshed out by career-best performances from all involved. Particularly impressive is Jennifer Jason Leigh as the feisty, foul-mouthed Daisy and Kurt Russell as the terrifying bounty hunter, both of whom also work terrifically as a pair, handcuffed together for the majority of the film and sniping at each other like an old married couple. However it is Samuel L. Jackson who gives one of the most memorable performances as Major Marquis Warren, delivering speech after iconic speech with a cool yet horrifyingly menacing tone that sends shivers down your spine, especially in one disturbing scene that will stick in your mind for days after seeing this. It is without a doubt Jackson’s most iconic Tarantino character to date next to Jules from Pulp Fiction (1994).

If Tarantino’s words are the lyrics in the music then his direction is him conducting, something else he does perfectly throughout this. Along with his dialogue he knows just how to pace each scene, dragging out moments to breaking point as he builds an underlying sense of dread to keep us squirming in our seats, something that his trademark use of violence also does – an aspect that will have you visibly wincing, but that is often necessary to the plot (to mention why about one point in particular would completely give away part of the story though). That expert pacing also helps with his decision to never leave Minnie’s Haberdashery (apart from establishing scenes and a brief flashback) – a brave choice that he effortlessly pulls off. Similar to the minimal locations of Reservoir Dogs’ (1992) (my all-time favourite film), Tarantino’s flair for dialogue, plot and intensity fill the time perfectly, making you feel as if you’re on an epic, sprawling journey when in fact we barely leave the one room. It also helps that Minnie’s Haberdashery is so exquisitely designed. Light streams through the wooden slots of the cabin walls to create stunningly beautiful moments, with the lowered temperature of the set adding a pleasingly authentic touch to proceedings too. You can practically feel the freezing cold yourself as you watch the actors’ breath hang in the air.

The loquacious Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and potential Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) get to know each other...

Two years ago when the dreaded script leak of this film happened, Tarantino swore he’d never shoot it. Well that was thankfully one promise he didn’t keep. At nearly three hours, The Hateful Eight is one of his longer films, yet it doesn’t feel that way. Every element works together harmoniously to create a gripping, intense thriller and a lyrical masterpiece, and one that is absolutely up there with his best. This is once again another instance of Quentin Tarantino truly conquering a genre by putting his own unique stamp on it – something that is a joy to watch in action and that becomes even more rewarding with repeated viewings. Maybe now that it has made its way onto Blu-ray and DVD, the distributors can sort out whatever dispute they were having so that we can finally have a tour of the 70mm roadshow version across the UK (while this was widely shown in the US, here it only screened in one London cinema). To see the film as Tarantino truly intended – in glorious 70mm (a vintage format that creates a greater scale onscreen), with extra footage and added intermission – is something that would make this an event film on an even grander scale. But until then, the version we have here still makes for a more than incredible experience and absolutely essential viewing.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams keeps the spirit of the original films alive in this fun, exhilarating sequel

•April 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Ok, let’s address the Bantha in the room first. Until recently I had never seen a Star Wars film. Ever. I’m unsure how I avoided them for so many years being the self-confessed film geek that I am, but I managed to do so with the stealth of a Jedi Master. However when stellar director J.J. Abrams stepped up to helm the latest sequel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), I decided to take a leap of faith. After all, Abrams had already proved he was more than up to the task after the successful reboot of another iconic sci-fi series (Star Trek). While some might have prepared for the momentous occasion by catching up on all the other Star Wars films, I decided on a different angle: could the sequel impress someone like me who was unfamiliar with the franchise? Let’s just say I became a hardcore fan way before the end credits had even rolled…

Indeed I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed The Force Awakens. While it began with the usual title screen and scrolling text sequence (which at the time I only knew about from millions of film and TV references), it was immediately infused with a thrilling boldness that had me hooked from the very first scene. Abrams dives right into the Star Wars universe and the story, kicking it up a gear with impressive action sequence after action sequence as we join the forces of good on a frantic race to prevent a map that will lead to the location of Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) from falling into the hands of the First Order, led by new villain to the series Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Introduced to us in an unexpectedly terrifying moment, Driver’s is unlike many other villainous performances, his solid turn adding a poignancy to the role that makes him all the more menacing, particularly in a later scene that is guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye whether you’re a fan of the originals or not.

The superb Daisy Ridley as Rey (with adorable droid BB-8 in the background)...

As dark as the story is though (and it does get very dark at times) Abrams and the other scriptwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt are keen to keep the balance by injecting plenty of humour throughout – comedy moments that are often a welcome relief to the intensity of other scenes. Focusing on fun with a capital ‘F’ ensures this is always watchable and exciting, particularly during earlier scenes between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), two other new main characters who find themselves unexpectedly tasked with keeping the map safe. Both actors excel in their individual roles, each of them instantly creating well-rounded and iconic characters to add to the Star Wars canon, especially Ridley who is endlessly impressive in a breakout role. Yet the action becomes the most gripping whenever the two are together, their chemistry superb in many laugh-out-loud moments, with Boyega proving himself to be a master of comic timing as a Stormtrooper on the run.

While the inclusion of new characters might make this seem like The Force Awakens is moving away from the Star Wars universe everyone knows and loves, Abrams is careful to invoke the original films from the 70s and 80s (the less said about the prequels the better) in other ways. It’s not just the familiar plot of good vs. evil or that some of the characters from the original films make an appearance or the use of John Williams’ classic score. It’s not even the inclusion of those screen wipes that writer-director George Lucas originally used. Instead it’s more of a deliciously old-school style to the overall film – a gritty, realistic edge that the older films also had to them (before Lucas inevitably tampered with them for re-release). Abrams favours real effects over CGI, with puppets, make-up effects and impressive production design all cleverly merging to create as much of the action onscreen as possible. Yet whenever CGI is added it is always well-disguised or used sparingly. Even complete CGI characters are motion captured to perfection and brilliantly performed, such as Lupita Nyong’o as the small, bespectacled Maz Kanata who helps the heroes on their journey. The one anomaly to this rule is Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke: while Serkis gives a reliably great performance, this gargantuan character seems at odds with the more subtle CGI moments, and as a result is about as terrifying as a fluffy Ewok.

Finn (John Boyega) meets Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)...

Yet this a rare flaw in an altogether near perfect film. Enjoyable from the off, the action is endlessly exhilarating, as are the quieter moments that are all the more impressive for solid, often emotional performances. And the introduction of some new characters (in particular Oscar Isaac as the dashing Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, Domhnall Gleeson as the ruthless General Hux, and the cute spherical droid BB-8) alongside iconic ones from the previous films ensures the story is never tiring. Many fans of the series have decried certain aspects of the plot, but overall Star Wars: The Force Awakens reinvigorates a series that had lost its way, and is one that acted as a pleasingly fun introduction for me to this exhilarating series (and yes, I’ve now watched the original films, and I loved them all. I’m avoiding the dreaded prequels for now though – I’m not that much of a fan yet). Ending on an almost literal cliffhanger, the wait for the next film is certainly going to be a long one.

Tangerine – A bold, innovative production that embraces the energy of L.A.

•April 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The sound of high heels quickly pounding the pavement to a thumping, pulse-inducing song perfectly sets the tone for Tangerine: fast-paced, energetic and gloriously badass. Gripping you from the first hilarious conversation between the two fabulous leads (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) at its heart this is a film all about a journey, albeit one involving a transgender prostitute seeking revenge.

Tangerine (2015)

As stories go, it’s pretty straightforward. But what it lacks in narrative complexity it makes up for with a bold choice of subject matter and a stunning vibrancy that laces every moment. Writer and director Sean Baker has scenes firing by in quick succession, the action jumping between Sin-dee’s (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) relentless pursuit of her boyfriend and the ‘fish’ (cisgender woman) he is cheating on her with, and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) as she goes about her daily business on the streets. Baker and writer Chris Bergoch also include a third storyline in their script involving an Armenian cab driver (Karren Karagulian) ferrying his customers around L.A. – brief one-shots that add to the fast-pace of the story and the overall humour of the film, as well as a surprising twist when it becomes entangled in the main narrative later on.

The fact that Tangerine is shot entirely on iPhones adds to the film’s energy, an innovative technique that Baker might have used for budgetary reasons, but that also creates a fresh and exciting look. It almost feels like a joyous rollercoaster ride at some points, the fluid, unrestrained camera movements whipping around the characters and amplifying the overall pacing of the narrative. Everything in Tangerine is also fittingly shot in a glorious sun-soaked orange hue, a decision that further enhances that brilliantly vibrant atmosphere. You can almost feel the scorching heat bouncing off the very L.A. sidewalks that Sin-dee and Alexandra walk on.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, James Ransone and Mya Taylor in Tangerine...

Semi-improvised dialogue complements the freshness of this tale, as well as the humour. Tangerine is laugh-out-loud throughout, hilarious dialogue bouncing back and forth between the characters, in particular the completely captivating Rodriguez and Taylor as Sin-dee and Alexandra. They are the driving force of the whole film, the presence of these two real trans women not only radical casting, but also adding to the realism of Tangerine’s tale – an aspect that makes the later more poignant moments all the more touching, especially an unexpected ending that is genuinely heartwarming.

A gripping and raw look at a bold subject matter, this is also a groundbreaking film in every sense of the word. Fluidly lensed, with a perfect soundtrack and filled with brilliant humour, especially from the two vibrant leads of Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, Tangerine pops with colour and energy, and is as fresh as films get.

Mya Taylor as one of Tangerine's vibrant leads...

(Originally posted on The Digital Fix:

Carol – Director Todd Haynes returns to the silver screen with an enchanting masterpiece

•March 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

From stunning cinematography, gorgeous production design, and glamourous costumes, everything about Carol (2015) screams sumptuousness. However what is most impressive about Todd Haynes’ latest film is what we don’t see, with an emotional and spellbinding story that is all about the loaded glances between the characters, and the things that are sadly left unsaid.

Carol (2015)

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, Carol feels like the perfect counterpart to Haynes’ Far from Heaven (2002). Set in the 1950s and featuring another slice of American life, this too centres on the controversial relationship of two characters, who long to be together when society says they can’t. Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation of Highsmith’s book is beautifully restrained, her script revelling in the quiet moments of their relationship and of the overall narrative – and this is where the story’s power comes from. There’s no melodrama or overwrought declaration of sentiment, as would often be the case with a drama like this. This makes Carol all the more gripping and impactful, with a devastating story that is emotional without having to say much at all.

While the title is ‘Carol’, the focus of Nagy’s script is really on Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), an aspiring photographer working in a department store and one half of that controversial relationship. Witnessing the story through her eyes, we see how a chance meeting in the store leads to gradually growing feelings between her and the titular Carol, as Therese comes to the realisation that she wants to be with this older woman more than her current beau (Jake Lacy).

Rooney Mara gives a stunning performance as Therese Belivet...

Wide-eyed and with her face full of innocence, Rooney Mara perfectly portrays Therese’s naivety at her and Carol’s situation, as well as her unwavering love for her. Impressing more than she previously has in any other film, Mara’s fragile and muted performance makes the story heartbreaking, as does Cate Blanchett’s. Her Carol is the epitome of a headstrong woman who is continuously stoic and determined to do what she wants in a man’s world – a world that is represented by her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler – also brilliant). Blanchett and Mara work perfectly together onscreen, especially in the earlier moments of their relationship when you can practically see the tension hanging in the silent air between them.

Haynes has the sense to step back and let their performances breathe with stripped down direction. Yet where his personality shines through most is in the use of gorgeous imagery, with production design that uses a gloriously rich, yet often muted, colour palette, as well as luscious cinematography achieved by shooting on Super 16mm film. Every moment is a joy to look at, the imagery perfectly complemented by the dazzling costume design by Sandy Powell.

Cate Blanchett as the titular Carol...

Contributing to the richness of every scene is a beautiful, emotive score by Carter Burwell that stays in your mind long after the film’s ending. And this isn’t the only thing about Carol which lingers. The production design; the imagery; the subtle, yet emotional performances; the beautiful story: everything about it burrows its way into your heart. A sublime masterpiece from director Todd Haynes that deserves many repeated viewings.

(Originally posted on The Digital Fix:

High-Rise – A chilling tale about the height of power

•March 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

While the setting of J.G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise might be the 1970s, it is a story as relevant to our times as ever, something director Ben Wheatley has recognised with his latest film. An evocative mix of drama, sci-fi and horror, Wheatley’s High-Rise (2015) holds a mirror up to our society and shows us a bizarre, nightmarish vision in return.

High-Rise (2015)

That nightmare seems far from possible for the residents of the exquisite tower block of the title though – a building that gains a new tenant when Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves in. And yet while Robert and the other tenants might not feel the approaching terror, the viewer certainly does from the very start. Creating menacing undertones throughout (and not just with an intriguing prologue that foreshadows things to come), Wheatley and writer Amy Jump gradually build up the weirdness as the tensions between people living on different floors of the block start to emerge. Cue power cuts, violent outbursts and even worse as the high-rise slowly starts to succumb to madness and everyone forgets that there is actually an exit to the building.

It is in these later moments of the tale that High-Rise truly impresses, Wheatley creating horrific, violent tableaus similar to those he used in Sightseers (2012) and his last film A Field in England (2013). As in those films, these sequences are almost disorientating, increasing in their frequency and strangeness as the high-rise descends into chaos and the building’s power begins to take over.

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) gets close to Helen Wilder (Elisabeth Moss)...

While this idea of a building as a living thing is far from a new concept, Wheatley and Jump give Ballard’s concept a fresh lease of life with their usual eclectic mix of genres, as well as a dark, comic element that sits alongside the more horrific moments. This heady mix of genres also gives new life to the old themes of class, wealth and power featured in Ballard’s story, as does the genius casting of Tom Hiddleston in the central role. Playing on the actor’s own upper class background, his Dr. Robert Laing floats uncomfortably between the divided residents – literally as he resides on the floor above the lower classes but below the upper, and figuratively in the company he keeps. With a stunning portrayal, Hiddleston makes his Laing relatable yet increasingly ambiguous as time goes on – an intriguing character who sits somewhere between good and evil.

As great as Hiddleston is though, Luke Evans is an absolute revelation as Richard Wilder, a rakish documentary filmmaker who is hellbent on destroying his and everyone else’s lives…or is he being truthful when he says he is trying to save them all? Whatever Wilder’s motivations though, Evans gives a truly energised performance and is riveting in every moment, as well as completely terrifying in some others.

Luke Evans as the rakish Richard Wilder...

With excellent performances from the rest of the brilliant ensemble cast (especially Sienna Miller, James Purefoy and Jeremy Irons), High-Rise is a gripping and intriguing watch from start to finish, with a disturbing, macabre undercurrent throughout. A perfect adaptation of Ballard’s original tale and a clever exploration of how much society is still governed by class, Jump and Wheatley prevent High-Rise from becoming tired or too much of a preachy allegory with an exciting mix of genres, as well as a heavy dose of humour. Ending on a speech by Margaret Thatcher we are suddenly reminded of the 70s setting of the story. For most of this, High-Rise really could be any building in any time – less of a nightmare and more of an inevitability.

(Originally posted on The Digital Fix: