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High-Rise (Tom Hiddleston) - DVD Review

High Rise

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

JG Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise has long been considered one of the great un-filmable works – and watching Ben Wheatley’s adaptation, it’s easy to see why.

Consistently intriguing, yet deeply flawed (particularly on that all important emotional level), Wheatley’s film ends up achieving honourable failure status. But it’s not for the want of trying.

In novel form, Ballard’s work was always intended as a commentary on the divide between the rich and the poor, which is evidenced in the tower block that serves as the main character. It’s a dwelling of the future where the rich occupy the top floors and party hard, often at the expense of the lower classes below, whose existence becomes increasingly marred by power cuts that inevitably raise tensions and lead to rebellion.

Caught in the middle, almost literally, is Dr Laing, a new resident who makes acquaintances on both sides. Courted by the building’s architect, Anthony Royal, and seduced by one of its more decadent occupants living immediately above, Charlotte Melville, he also shares sympathies with the aggressive filmmaker, Wilder, who lives underneath and who fans the flames of revolution whenever opportunity or resentment allows.

Almost inevitably, violence erupts and people perish. But there are no easy resolutions, merely madness.

And therein lies one of the main problems in adapting the book to film. While its themes certainly resonant today (maybe even more strongly than they did in the ’70s), the trippy way in which the story unfolds and its necessary descent into paranoia, decadence and madness is somewhat alienating.

Wheatley is never one to shy away from violence or disturbing imagery, as past work such as Kill List will attest. But here he goes into overdrive, delivering many of the scenes in an almost hallucinatory fashion without allowing audiences to engage on an emotional level.

Hence, while the film looks good, it’s a cold, sometimes impenetrable affair that frustrates more than it entertains – and that’s despite a high quality cast who deliver excellent performances.

Hiddleston is, as ever, on fine form as Dr Laing – outwardly charismatic, a la The Night Manager, yet inwardly hostile and even creepy. He’s a self-serving anti-hero who becomes more and more distanced from reality [and audiences] the longer the film progresses. But Hiddleston, adding another notch to an increasingly impressive bow, delivers the journey in compelling fashion.

Jeremy Irons is suitably Machiavellian as Royal, Sienna Miller outrageously flirtatious as Melville and Luke Evans as aggressive and livewire as his Wilder suggests. But, again, there are times when Wheatley’s trippy visual style hampers the performances, seldom allowing a scene to really settle.

If anything, Wheatley sometimes feels a little too indebted to the ’70s and its style of filmmaking, with the likes of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange looming a little too large over proceedings here. Certainly, High-Rise ends up feeling just as confrontational and equally as polarising as that seminal work.

Watch the trailer

Certificate: 15
Running time: 114mins
UK Blu-ray and DVD Release: July 18, 2016