British filmmaker Ben Wheatley has a very distinctive voice, and in many ways is a "Marmite" director – you either love him or hate him. I've mostly loved his work until now; I adored both Kill List and Sightseers, but I could not get along at all with A Field In England. Now the talented Wheatley has turned his hand to adapting this "unfilmable" 1975 JG Ballad novel about dystopian life in a luxury London apartment building. And he's come up with a film that is surreal, beutiful and very, very divisive.
High-Rise clearly has the look and feel of the 1970s, but is set in an undisclosed "near future". Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr Robert Laing, who moves in to a new apartment in a luxury high-rise building in west London. The film opens with the building in an almost post-apocalyptic state, with Laing settling down to feast on his barbecued neighbour's dog. The film then flashes back to three months earlier to show how the building descended into such madness. Laing simply wants a quiet life and to keep himself to himself, but he finds himself slowly being seduced by his neighbours and drawn in to their world.
At its core, High-Rise is a lovely political sature of that most British of institutions, the class system. The wealthy upper classes live at the top, while the working-class and impoverished languish below. Sitting above them all in the penthouse is the building's architest, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) – the "king" of the high rise, who makes the rules and is seemingly oblvious to the anarchy unfolding below him. Laing soon finds himself drawn in to the hedonistic lifestyle of drunken and regular sex with his pretty neighbour Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller). And things take a violent turn as the lower classes rebel, led by documentary filmmaker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans).
Yes, it's a divisive film, and I find myself sitting somewhere in the middle. The metaphor is clear, but the script is a little muddled and unfocused, with the narrative jumping around quite a bit. And as the building's society breaks down, the questions arises – why don't the people just leave? That said, it's a beautiful film to look at – reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick at his best, with a touch of Lindsay Anderson and Ken Russell thrown in for good measure – mainly due to outstanding work from production designer Mark Tildesley. What really holds it all together are the performances from this great cast, led by Hiddleston who once again shines and shows what a supremely talented actor he is. But for much of its running time, High-Rise feels like a case of style over substance and a bit of a missed opportunity.
EXTRAS: There's an Audio Commentary with director Ben Wheatley, producer Jeremy Thomas and star Tom Hiddleston; the featurette Bringing Ballard to The Big Screen (3:47); Cast Interviews with Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Sienna Guillory, Luke Evans, Keeley Hawes, Jeremy Irons, James Purfoy, Elisabeth Moss and Dan Skinner; and Crew Interviews with Jeremy Thomas, Rob Entwistle, Paki Smith, Odile Dicks-Mireaux, Nick Gillespie, Neil Wallace, Mark Tildesley, Jamie Egner, Glenn Marks, Dan and Andrew Wilson.