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quinta-feira, 17 de março de 2016
High-Rise is 'the height of decadence' - review
Ben Wheatley's JG Ballard adaptation, starring an insouciant, debonair Tom Hiddleston, serves up orgiastic mayhem on a silver platter
There’s almost nothing Ben Wheatley gets wrong in High-Rise, his coolly immaculate film of the JG Ballard science-fiction classic. In 1975, Ballard began with one of the great first lines in the genre: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”
The tone survives – unlike the poor mutt, one of whose paws we see glazed and slowly turning on a spit-roast in the opening minutes.
The sick laugh inevitably delivered by this shot is Wheatley’s stock-in-trade, a kind of devilish grindhouse glee, and it’s just one of the things that makes him an ideal choice for serving up Ballard. Anyone who knows the book, and just wants its downward slide into building-wide mayhem heaved up on screen in all its anarchic glory, gets it delivered to them on a silver platter – the lid whisked off with a flourish.
Wheatley, previously a low-budget cult hero after the likes of Down Terrace and Kill List, has upped his craft and ambition, here, too: thanks to the guiding hand of producer Jeremy Thomas, who previously helped David Cronenberg get his Ballard film, Crash, before the cameras, this has lip-smackingly lavish production values and looks the absolute business.
One of Wheatley’s best choices is to present very much a Seventies dystopian vision, with the grisly wallpaper to match, on the eve of Margaret Thatcher’s ascent to power. It’s crucial that the 40-storey enclave of Ballard’s imagination be concrete and brutalist, not steel and glass. Laing, played with bad-ass debonair insouciance by Tom Hiddleston, is a young doctor who’s just moved in: he’s tanning himself nude on the 25th floor when upstairs neighbour Charlotte (Sienna Miller) shouts down to introduce herself.
This hedonistic design for living is the concept of presiding architect Anthony Royal, played in a plum bit of casting by Jeremy Irons – white-suited, eagle-eyed, crippled, he’s in full craggy and drawling Boris Karloff mode, tapping around his vast penthouse garden with a cane. “Is that a horse?” Laing asks on his first visit up to the roof, as Royal’s queenly wife Ann (Keeley Hawes) swishes through the vegetation on a noisy white steed. “Probably,” comes the shrugged reply.
The building was conceived “as a crucible for change”, says Royal, equally vaguely, and change we get: in steady increments, civilisation starts to break down. The lower-dwelling denizens of this stratified social microcosm, like poll tax rioters, start chafing at their lack of lift privileges, plundering their neighbours’ wine deliveries. The swimming pool, on the 30th floor, turns into an increasingly filthy romp zone. “Mania, narcissism and power failure,” as Laing puts it, become the order of the day. And sex is all around.
Wheatley brings the spirit of Seventies swinger parties into the mix with giggly, orgiastic results. Laing gets with Charlotte first, before working his way smoothly through most of the female cast: by the time Helen (Elisabeth Moss), wife of Luke Evans’ increasingly feral TV producer, has abandoned her own children for a tryst, she sounds very much the satisfied customer.
“You are definitely the best amenity in the building,” she tells Laing. Meanwhile, peaches rot in the downstairs supermarket, dogs get thrown in the pool, and one resident jumps to his death, crumpling a car hood in exquisitely realised slow motion.
Wheatley’s technicians fill every shot and sequence with fascinating coups. Mark Tildesley has done brilliant work as a production designer for Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Sunshine) and Michael Winterbottom (The Claim, Code 46), but the looming hulk of this building and its gradual interior blackening are his masterpieces.
The film speeds up – Ballard’s disinterested, episodic plot lets Wheatley jump ahead however quickly he chooses – but he also knows how to put the brakes on. Clint Mansell’s sultry score invites us languidly into the fun and games, but the musical highlight is an inspired slow-jam cover of ABBA’s S.O.S., by Portishead. It’s a party track for a party at the end of the world.
It’s perfect, then? It is and it isn't. There are minor snags in the ensemble: James Purefoy is sulphurously hammy, like a wayward extra from A Clockwork Orange, and Reece Shearsmith rarely curbs his propensity to go OTT, either. More broadly, though, Wheatley stops short of making Ballard’s vision relevant to our debatably more anxious present.
Ballard’s concept is meticulously, lovingly recreated, like a museum exhibit of itself. But the tone is always more playful than it is disturbing, a walled-off black joke which opts out of saying anything new.