Tuesday, April 26, 2016

HIGH-RISE: Ben Wheatley/Amy Jump's version of the J.G. Ballard novel hits screens

Ben Wheatley -- he of those very violent movies Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers and then of the more modulated, explorative and interesting (though somewhat violent) A Field in England -- is back, this time bringing to the screen a novel about the collapse-of-civilization-in-microcosm by J.G. Ballard that he has directed, the screenplay for which has been adapted by Wheatley's partner Amy Jump. The movie is HIGH-RISE, and I have to say that it is a colossal failure by almost any standard against which you'd care to measure.

Visually arresting (for a time, at least) and sporting an ensemble cast of relatively big names, the movie boasts certainly the largest budget with which Wheatley, shown at right, has yet been allowed to play. Leading the ensemble is Tom Hiddleston, below (in a shot that should give you some idea of the classy design scheme the movie offers), as a successful doctor who has recently moved into a semi-spectacular high-rise building, in and on which the penthouse and roof offer things nearly unseen anywhere else. (You may note, however, that as the building deteriorates, it does not seem to be the same structure that we saw earlier, at least not where that penthouse and roof are concerned.)

Wheatley is known for his semi-original crushing of dark comedy and ultra-violence (Down Terrace and Sightseers, particularly). Almost any comic factor has leeched out of High-Rise so we are left with Wheatley and Jump's usual cast of of characters that we care little for or about. While this is all to the good, considering what happens to most of them in all of Wheatley's movies, it doesn't do much for our overall enjoyment of his films. Without characters to care about, there is far too little at stake.

Other occupants of the high-rise include Sienna Miller (above) as a slutty single mom and Elizabeth Moss (below, with Hiddleston) who plays a constantly pregnant woman dragging around a huge brood of kids. Add this role to the one Moss is most famous for (remember that first season of Mad Men?), and you have an actress taking her pregnant characters to new heights (or depths).

Every apartment building ought to have its macho man, and here that role is played by a heavily mustached Luke Evans (below), who pulls out all the stops in the manliness and stupidity departments (though, in truth, most everyone else here proves pretty stupid, too). The film's plot, if it has any, simply shows us the destruction of the entitled upper class and working class aspirants, yet adds nothing to what we've already seen, from Pinter/Losey's The Servant onwards.

Jeremy Irons (below) plays the guy in charge of it all, a surprisingly fit senior citizen, but his character, too, proves a big nothing, about whom the most important thing may be that he likes the color white. His nutty wife is essayed by the always interesting Keeley Hawes (shown at right two photos below with Sienna Guillory), who is interesting here, too, and is given a good deal of screen time to little avail.

High-Rise may be the biggest waste of my time so far this year. Wheatley's stock-in-trade would seem to be pushing the envelope violence-wise, and this grows increasingly tiresome. Yes, there are some classy visuals here, too, and that evidently is enough for some critics to view and then imagine that they're watching a good movie. I hope Mr. Wheatley goes back to something more edifying like his best work, A Field in England.

Mr. Hiddleston, below, acquits himself as well as possible under these tiresome circumstances. What a sexy, classy and talented actor he is. Compare his work as Loki (in the Thor films) with his performances in The Deep Blue Sea and Only Lovers Left Alive, and you'll wish for better roles for him soon. (I hear he is very good in the current cable series The Night Manager.)

Meanwhile, High-Rise -- from Magnolia Pictures and running a way-too-long two hours -- opens on VOD, Amazon Video and iTunes this Thursday, April 28, and then theatrically around the U.S. on Friday, May 13. Click here to view currently scheduled playdates, with all cities and theaters listed.  

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