There a lot to be said for common sense. Too often in the movies, there’s a contrivance, something annoying, or a moment that doesn’t quite ring true, as a bunch of people try and escape a seemingly impossible situation. Tower Block revolves around such a situation. But at no point are you left with the sense that it’s cheated you. You might not like every turn that it takes, but this is a proper, well structured story, that follows a logical path.
Most of the action takes place, as the title suggests, in a big tower block. This is, however, a tower block that’s ripe for demolition, with nobody in the surrounding area, and with just a bunch of people left living on the top floor. It’s an uneasy life they live, not least thanks to the presence of Kurtis, played by Jack O’Connell. As he goes to door to door demanding protection money, you can’t help but think you’re in for another gritty urban drama.
But you’re not. Instead, things take a wildly different turn, as the bullets of a sniper suddenly start coming through the windows. Why is he shooting? What’s he got against the top floor residents? And how on earth can they survive and get out? They’re simple questions, answered very well by James Moran’s focussed, unfussy script.
He takes time to work up and establish characters (it’s an ensemble where you’ll feel you know more than two of them by the time the credits roll), and keeps a sufficient number of cards close to his chest. The downside to this is that the ending, after the excellent build up to it, feels like the weakest part of the movie. It’s entirely fair in the way it plays out, but for reasons we won’t go into for spoiler reasons, the explanation doesn’t feel quite as interesting as the main premise.
Yet that main premise is played out well for the rest of the movie. Directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson keep the film dimly lit (once or twice you might want to lend them a torch, in fact), and they capture the claustrophobia of the situation well. They, too, keep their focus throughout.
And then there are two real standouts in the impressive roster of acting performances that help bring Tower Block to life. The first is Sheridan Smith. In her first big movie leading role, she’s excellent. She’s the character at the centre of Tower Block’s ensemble, and she mixes in a survival instinct and putting across the terror of the situation convincing well. She holds the tone well, never relaxing into comedy.
Jack O’Connell, meanwhile, is utterly scene stealing and quite brilliant as Kurtis. As comfortably the least likeable character in the whole ensemble, O’Connell deploys humour and an approach to swearing that’s not too far out of Don Logan’s playbook. It means the film lifts every time he’s on the screen. His performance alone is good reason to watch the film.
But then, there are other good reasons too. It’s a British thriller, that sets out its parameters and plays well within them. For long periods, it’s engrossing and intriguing, too, and while it might just be five minutes or so too long, it’s a very well put together piece of work. Britain isn’t supposed to be good at making films like this. As it turns out, it’s a good job that nobody told the Tower Block team…