"The whole film has quite a playful tone in very disturbing situations"
J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise has been waiting for quite a while to be turned into a film, and once they decided to do so, everything moved quite fast. Ben Wheatley is the man behind the adaptation and he has managed to turn it into a project that can stand on its own feet.
The science-fiction classic starts in a very visual way, one that gives the tone for the film as well “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected in the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”. However, the end of that fluffy dog is managed to be presented in a funny way. Yes, he manages to pull that off!
After quite a start we jump back in time to when Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moved into the luxurious 40-storey tower block; the building and its residents are a perfect seventies picture, from the patterns on the walls to their way of partying and dressing. The building is somewhat self-sufficient; they have a pool, squash court, market and classrooms for the kids. However, this ideal “crucible for change” is a metaphor of class division - on a different scale of course. Probably the biggest difference can be seen if we take the time to look at the architect’s penthouse and garden. Garden in which a horse and a sheep reside, among others, and an apartment from the lower levels, like the Wilders’ home. Robert Laing is slowly introduced into this bubble and gets to experience a bit of both sides.
As days pass he gets to interact with quite a few residents; Charlotte (Sienna Miller) a single mother who won’t hesitate to use her charms to get what she wants or needs, Helen (Elizabeth Moss) another mother, yet a very troubled and confused one and Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), her husband, a very intense man who is more than stuck on the idea of climbing the social ladder, and last, but not least, Royal (Jeremy Irons) the man behind the building.
All these people, and many more make the high-rise. They party and party, they argue, initially because of small, unimportant things, things which suddenly take a whole new meaning once the building starts to decay and the peaches start to rot. A children’s party ends up causing a fight and leaving a victim behind, a grown-ups party ends with a suicide, and soon various types of orgies become normal. You might ask: why is no one calling the police? The police eventually turn up, but only to be told by Anthony Royal that everything is alright. No, they don’t investigate further.
The most interesting thing however is the fact that they have managed to put humour in a lot of the situations. Even to a discussion referring to a lost father or the lobotomisation of Wilder. Action which almost gets Robert Laing thrown from a balcony if not for the intervention of Royal “You can’t do that, he owes me a game of squash!”. The slow motion scenes and the soundtrack also help. They manage to pair the chaos happening in the building and probably in the residents’ heads with a cover of ABBA’s SOS by Portishead. Not sure how many of you saw that one coming. Soundtrack related however, they did pick it well. The whole film has quite a playful tone in very disturbing situations.
Casting was key, and the director stated that he wanted Tom Hiddleston for the role of Robert. Dr. Laing is “a fine specimen”, as Charlotte calls him when surprised while tanning. He is a sort of stylish indifferent young doctor who doesn’t show a lot of what he thinks or feels. As the story develops he manages to make two conquests: Charlotte and Helen. Also, as the story evolves you can see why they wanted Dr. Laing to begin with. He is able to bring his own charm to the character, but without letting that affect Robert’s outlook on life.
Jeremy Irons as Anthony Royal perfectly fits the picture of the aristocratic architect. With his light coloured clothes and detached attitude he seems untouchable by the meaningless problems of his mortal residents.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise was Luke Evans as Richard Wilder. I had previously seen photos of him in character, but I didn’t realise just how much he had managed to transform himself. From haircut to attitude, from the way of speaking to his stare. Yes, Wilder is intense and pulls off some nasty things, however, Evans manages with that role to catch the attention on multiple occasions and is absolutely brilliant in it.
All in all, Ben Wheatley doesn’t seem to know how to do things half way. He goes completely mental with the story and presents it in a very next level way. Is it good? Or is it bad? It will be the type of film on which all opinions will be very subjective. Is it powerful? I dare say yes. Is it different and well played? Definitely! In the end, Dr. Robert Laing underlines its essence very well “On the whole, life on the high-rise was good. It was like a huge children’s party that got out of control.”