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Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller in class-warfare slog 'High-Rise'
You may want to give British filmmaker Ben Wheatley some props for his bold attempt to bring J.G. Ballard's 1975 parable of societal implosion, the novel "High-Rise," to the screen.
But that would be before you've been subjected to two hours of watching Tom Hiddleston, as the newest resident of a London luxury apartment tower, navigating his way through the hierarchical nightmare of fancy-pants rich folk (the highest floors) and floundering families and working stiffs (the lowest levels), before the fruit in the 15th-floor supermarket turns rotten with mold, before the hallways become obstacle courses of garbage and debris, before the power goes out and the little doggies become meals to keep their owners from starving to death.
An anything-but-subtle critique of the class system, soul-killing consumerism and carnality, "High-Rise" follows Hiddleston's Robert Laing — a physiologist, a picture of chilly self-containment — as he settles into new digs in apartment 2505.
One floor above lives the ravenous Charlotte (Sienna Miller), who eyes her new neighbor as he suns naked on his terrace and wastes no time inviting him up for a conjugal welcome.
Laing also meets Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a thuggish tenant married to the very pregnant Helen (Elisabeth Moss). Richard, who is in television, has been doing his share of conjugating with Charlotte, too. (Coolest thing in the Wilders' apartment: a poster for "Morgan!", the 1966 British pic about madness and Marxism, starring David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave.)
Glomming from Gilliam ("Brazil"), Godard ("Week-end"), and Kubrick ("A Clockwork Orange"), Wheatley soldiers on, introducing us to the architect behind this brutalist concrete complex.
Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives in the penthouse, of course, with its grand floor plan and its rooftop garden — where his wife (Keeley Hawes) wanders around dressed as Little Bo Peep, and where she keeps her goat and her horse.
Set in the 1970s (rotary phones, turntables, cute little cars) and dead set on proving its cleverness by having Portishead on the soundtrack (doing a disaffected cover of ABBA's 1975 hit "SOS") "High-Rise" feels like a throwback to a time when this kind of social commentary, in literature and film, seemed shocking and true.
Not sure whether it's progress to say that in 2016, "High-Rise" doesn't shock at all. And if its message about elitism, isolation, the decadence of capitalism and the phony pursuits of the bourgeoisie still rings true — well, sure, what else is new?
2 out of 4 stars
Rated: R for violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content/graphic nudity, language and some drug use.