We've had Straight Out of Compton sat on our coffee table for about six weeks now. I really want to see it, but things keep getting in the way - usually other movies that I'd rather see more, or on occassion just a desire to see something lighter or more comfortable than I imagine it to be. Maybe this week, but maybe not, especially with Strictly Come Dancing being back this week. I know, I know. Anyhow, this week a film I've wanted to see since it was announced dropped through the letter box - Ben Wheatley's adaptation of J G Ballard's High-Rise. Ambitious, but full of acting talent and from a director with good past form, this was something I really had to see.
The first interesting choice with High-Rise is to set it actually in the 1970s. Actually it's more than that; in many respects it looks like a film made in the 70s, down to some of the camera angles and editing choices, some of the (to modern eyes) strange pacing and generally trippy air. It fits right in with the films' preoccupation with class, especially the curious post-war British manifestation of it, which was starting to break down in that decade. It also feels timely, in some ways, as elements from across the British political spectrum seem to look back a lot more fondly on the "post-war consensus" than perhaps they did when they were closer to it. High-Rise, in some ways, is a portrayal of what happens when that consensus dies.
Our entry into this world is Tom Hiddleston, a man seeming born to play emotionally locked down, haunted men onto whom others can project motivation. A Doctor, he sits firmly in the middle of the Towers' social structure; able to mingle downwards and upwards with relative ease, becoming out doorway into the largely unpleasant population within. Seriously, I'm not sure there is a sympathetic character in the whole thing. Anyway, he soon comes into contact with Jeremy Iron's Architect (called Royal, and living on the Top Floor, in case you missed any symbolism) and his dreams of reordering society through architecture. Sort of.
As you might expect, things start to break down, first physically, with the lifts and the garbage disposal, and then socially, as the inhabitants start to wall themselves off and fight over who can throw the best party. Rape, Murder and Madness soon spreads through the Tower, catching everyone in it's grip. Society gets lost, it seems, and unfortunately so do a lot of the characters and themes. The problem is that the film starts to stagger under it's own ambition and frays badly towards the final, catastrophic finale. Some of the characters just seem to vanish, others act with import or motive that feels under developed. That said I think the actual ending is pretty great.
It's a shame though. High-Rise is still well worth a watch, it's still a fascinating, challenging movie and one that may feel tighter on a second viewing. The performances are all-round excellent, the direction is top-notch and the script compelling and interesting. It just feels like marrying these all together was a job to far, and the cracks - much like in the Tower itself - are too close to the surface to stay hidden.