By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review comes courtesy of Ben Wheatley via the Toronto Film Festival, London Film Festival and now the Phoenix cinema in Leicester.
I had the pleasure of catching a sneak peak of High Rise last October but once I read that the Phoenix were showing it, I had to revisit the movie again.
High Rise is just one of those films where you can take different things away from it each time you see it, but did I still enjoy it the second time around?
Ben Wheatley’s (Sightseers, A Field in England) High Rise is an adaptation from JG Ballad’s 1975 novel of the same name. It centres on a few protagonists’ lives that co-habit in a tower block. The residents like to party, fool around with drugs and take part in orgies that occur nightly – well, daily for that matter too. Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and Jeremy Irons helm this picture.
The prologue to this film sets out what is to come over the next two hours. We see a rough Hiddleston sitting on his trashed balcony, calmly cooking an Alsatian’s leg. Let’s be honest, from this we know we are about to go on a cinematic ride.
The film darts back 90 days and we see a young, single and professional Dr Laing move into his apartment. Within five minutes of run time, it’s clear that the block is run by parties, alcohol and sex. The film progresses with an off-the-scale riot as enticing single-mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller), documentary film-maker and sexual-harasser Wilder (Luke Evans), and the tower architect Royal (Jeremy Irons) all squabble throughout .
High Rise, like most of Ben’s films, is seemingly odd. It’s visually pleasing with eye-catching establishing-shots. Although, what most impressed me is how this a film about a tower block where numerous rich people live in glorious apartments yet Wheatley still manages to make the scenery around look dystopian – the contradictive outer-shell of the block is magical. It’s so clean in areas much like Dr Laing’s persona but it all changes in the second act when the lower floor residents rebel.
The High Rise novel was Ballad’s response to the rash post-war urban planning which delivered tower blocks as architectural social engineering. It’s an intelligent take on the matter. Ben Wheatley to me would have proved a risky director for this production but it certainly paid off. His filming techniques really brought the novel to life and he put his own stamp on the words. Wheatley still manages to keep a nostalgic feel and he even throws in a trademark shot with a kaleidoscope piece.
Ben is very much showcasing his talent in High Rise and it’s wonderful to witness but he also has great acting talent on hand to assist him. Tom Hiddleston is the glue in this film. He is calm when the film needs it most, he is aggressive when it is required and he also keeps the audience on their toes. We always feel he is holding something back and we constantly expect a dark twist or an eruption. The make up to his character, a white, middle-class male who is borderline too polite, lends itself to create an extra dimension to the narrative. You are waiting for something to kick off.
Wheatley successfully delivers on keeping Tom at an arm’s length and we never actually get too close to him. For instance, he suddenly becomes a party animal and starts to skip work but we never get the exact reasons why. He seems to be caught up in the hullabaloo at the tower block but it’s never confirmed. Overall for me personally, the jury is still out on whether Tom is a great talent or whether his choice of movies is his real gift. He makes this movie tick but maybe Tom’s performance is a question and Wheatley is the answer.
On the whole though, High Rise certainly delivers. It’s crazy and fearless and takes you on a slow-burning ride that climaxes into a full-blown bonfire. There are some ‘killer’ scenes too that really elevate this film to new heights. When Portishead’s version of the ABBA song S.O.S begins, you are transfixed into watching a man jump off the roof and smashing into a car bonnet - it’s that beautifully shot that you cannot take your eyes off it.
The movie isn’t perfect but it’s certainly entertaining. Wheatley’s career is moving in the right direction leaving behind an impressive canon – and High Rise is definitely a worthy addition.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
High-Rise is currently showing at the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester – Certificate 15