J.G. Ballard novels have a reputation for being difficult to adapt, but Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump and a few other collaborators decided to try anyway. Wheatley’s filmography as of the moment is a mix of rather similar films that are all somewhat strange and this follows that same pattern. A doctor (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a tower block considered the height of modern living but within those walls is a tension ready to burst and a class war ready to incite anarchy. Also starring Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss, Keeley Hawes, James Purefoy and Reese Shearsmith.
Although from the outset this would be a film appearing to draw out some great acting, and in moments that is true but for the most part it stays within a very small set of skills. Hiddleston, of course, has the most to perform with his character being the most changed from start to finish, plotting his course from almost average man to just another resident of the tower’s chaos. The second performance that comes to mind is Moss’, she’s already established herself as a wonderful actress and this is yet another example of that, there’s subtleties to her character that are intriguing to pick up while watching and it’s quite possibly the most consistent throughout the film. The rest of the cast, particularly Miller and Evans all strengthen the film and give more substance to the film, but then the acting of is certainly not this film’s problem.
The major problem is the direction of the story, you know where you’ll end up because it’s shown to the audience at the outset but the time it takes to get to that point is very much a bumbling, slow journey. The film starts off well and for the first hour or so does keep your attention with an explanation as to how the chaos will begin but as it does, it all falls apart, quite literally, and becomes a jumbled mix of sex and violence, which after quite a large use of it already, is somewhat boring and then it simply drags until the very last 10 minutes or so where it finally picks up again. The plot itself and all the metaphors included are perfectly valid, and in fact quite interesting but as Wheatley and Jump tend to do, it wanders and meanders and begins to lose any point to it at all. There are certain moments that have been done really well, a lot of them, but not exclusively, taking place in the final scenes but that leaves a lot of time in-between where it isn’t particularly enjoyable and could very easily have been shortened. The other problem is that a film like this easily opens itself up to humour, the sheer amount of chaos and destruction can make for good material in dark comedy but there’s only the tiniest amount of it to be found which is a real shame because it would have helped to move the film along much more smoothly.
You’ve got some great British actors and a good idea which just isn’t executed well enough, whether that’s because as is claimed Ballard’s work is too difficult to adapt or whether it’s the choices that have been made by the team behind the film is difficult to tell. It looks good, it starts off well and the acting is impressive but there’s just such little pay off that it is barely worth it. Wheatley has definitely expanded his horizons into more accessible territory than his previous films but it’s still something that will only be enjoyable for those with eccentric tastes.