Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating the box offices and the careers of those involved, it is always impressive to see actors bring their presence to other films and flex their acting muscles. One of those actors, Tom Hiddleston, is a consistent scene stealer in every film he is in and High-Rise is no different.
Tom Hiddleston plays Dr. Robert Laing a physiologist who movies into a new high rise apartment building on the outskirts of London in the 1970’s. This high rise is meant to be a symbol of what is modern and chic in the era. It also becomes a socioeconomic symbolic of the tenants inside with the upper crust of society living in the higher floors, and the normal (poor) families living on the lower levels. The architect of the building, Anthony Royal (played by Jeremy Irons), designed it to be a place for socioeconomic change. The implication of this statement being that he desired for the building to be a place where the poor and the rich could live in harmony. Inevitably, human nature kicks in, and when the building starts to loose power and many of the other modern conveniences like running water and garbage removal, battle lines are drawn between the rich and poor as the building erodes into an animalistic hell hole.
Hiddleston’s performance as Robert Laing is an interesting one since he at first appears to be an outside observer to the chaos in the building. However, its not surprising when he gets involved with the partying and degradation in the building. Its clear from the beginning that even though Laing is a quiet, removed individual, he seeks belonging after the death of his sister. As a doctor he has an easy in with the upper echelon of the building. He even plays squash with the building’s architect on several occasions where he is given insight into the power failures of the building. But, being a removed individual, Laing has sympathy for the lower tenants in the building. After he is humiliated out of a fancy dress party by one of his coworkers, he finds himself in a party held in the hallways of the lower tenants. Laing is the only one in the film we are given any real insight to, but due to a lack of real exposition, its not enough for us to build a solid relationship with the character. We want to hope that he will be better than the rest of the building, but the opening scene of the film spoils that for us. Ultimately, his fall from grace is lacking.
This leads to the biggest, and perhaps my only, issue with the film. A lack of exposition. Many films today suffer from too much exposition. Studios are afraid of alienating their audiences so instead of showing, they tell, and as a result they insult the audience. This film had so little exposition that when it ended, it took my mind a while to catch up with what had happened. Visually, the film conveys all the information we need to understand the story. As the building degrades, so do the morals of the inhabitants. As the morals degrade, we see factions forming based on which floor of the building people are from. While Laing is meant to be our POV character, and somewhat of an outside observer, there are many scenes showing the opposing factions without Laing, and we are meant to infer their true motives from these short scenes.
Ultimately, High-Rise was a beautifully shot film from director Ben Wheatley with a cast that excels at their roles. Going into the film, you’d expect something akin to Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer, but instead High-Rise is a more thoughtful exploration of what makes us human and how that builds a society. The lower levels seek equality with the upper levels, but the upper levels want something to separate them from the lower levels. When economics are stripped away and there is no longer a moral code to live by, High-Rise asks, what really separates us?