MovieChat Forums > Attack the Block (2011) Discussion > Unsympathetic Protagonists = Good

Unsympathetic Protagonists = Good

Are people really so desperate to be spoon fed blank, anodyne, cookie-cutter heroes in their films? Would this film have been much better if we had a bunch of likeable, good-looking high school kids fighting off the aliens? We could even have the jock, the hot girl and the nerdy guy who pulls through in the end to save the day and any other cliche you can think of.

Don't get me wrong, the mugging scene at the beginning of the film hardly endears you to the characters. That was the writer's intention, hence why he included the knife in it. They're not likeable characters at this point in the film. They're a bunch of kids who think they're bad-ass and all display a mix of cockiness and cluelessness and they're certainly not meant to be admired at the start. It's what they do throughout the course of the film that redeems them. They do save Sam (and she of course saves Moses at one point) and at the end, Moses realises that it was his actions that brought the aliens to the block and he risks his life to save everyone else.

I know I'm probably going to get a load of replies saying I'm a thick as hell liberal but I really don't think of myself as one. I don't think we're supposed to instantly forgive the characters for the mugging just because they were as scared as she was, it was still a horrible thing to do. But the events of the film show that they can change if given the chance to and that they can realise the mistakes they made, as Moses explicitly acknowledges when in the Weed Room.

One of the best moments in the film (for me) was the one where Sam notices Moses's Spider-man duvet and asks if he has a little brother. It just reinforces that these guys are just kids. That in and of itself doesn't excuse their actions and it's not enough to say "I had bad role models like Hi-Hatz" as a defence to mugging someone but when someone is living by himself in a rough part of town with his only adult influence being his uncle occasionally dropping by, you can understand how he'd gravitate towards those people who are seen as cool and powerful in that microcosm of the block. In any case, I think it's much more interesting to watch a film where you start off disliking the main characters and then realise that they do in fact have the capacity to change, they've always had the capacity to change and do in fact realise this potential when faced with a greater danger that makes them realise they're not gangsters, they're just a bunch of kids who think they're tough.


It's not about wanting traditional heroes, it's about the fact that how these characters were written didn't work for a lot of people. Most movies that have unsympathetic "heroic" characters are written with more depth and the story takes time to show more humanity. This movie triesd to be hard, then it tried to be cute and that just rubbed people the wrong way.


Fair enough, viewers like you have a legitimate complaint. But many other people that criticise the movie don't explain that they dislike it because they feel the writing wasn't strong enough to support the supposed redemptive character arcs. Lots of people seem like they saw the opening scene and just thought "well, I hate these guys. That's what I think and I'm not gonna change my mind about it! How dare a movie give us protagonists that aren't perfect?"

On the point that the film doesn't take enough time to show more humanity, personally I felt the film's brisk running time was a huge advantage as it didn't need a bloated 2+ hours to tell a story that was in essence just an alien invasion story (some Hollywood filmmakers could take note). I felt that enough was done to show depth - for me the Spider-man sheets and Moses's brusque explanation that his uncle comes and goes spoke volumes. Besides, it's not like these are the kinds of characters that would pour out their hearts and souls and in a matter of hours completely change beliefs and habits that have been ingrained practically since birth. I also think there was a hell of a lot of humanity shown in Moses's decision to go it alone and risk his life to save the block. But all of these things are just differences in perception between me and you and that's fair enough.


The problem is that the protagonists are wholly disingenuous. They are, for lack of a better term, fronting -- trying to be hard, but they are just ignorant kids. While I don't feel good about rooting for aliens to eat children, I do feel pretty good about rooting against the ignorant (and many of the characters were purposely written as such).

There were parts of a good movie hidden in Attack the Block, but they were not developed well or brought together in a timely manner. Moses' redemptive scenes come too late and feel false compared to the first half of the film.

As for your assertion that the characters' attitudes have been ingrained, the film goes out of its way to show that they do not behave the same way around family (and desperately modify their behavior when trying to impress the girls). I can see how some viewers would feel that this represents the classic duality of adolescence -- appearing to be a kid in front of the parents and a rebel amongst friends. That is not how I took it here, and that is one of the reasons why this film failed for me.

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ALl I know is whatever they did with these characters didn't work for me as much as it did for others. I didn't like them, believe them, or cared what happened to them. I don't think the movie needed to be bloated or made longer to flesh them out. The writers just needed to take more time and think about how they want to tell their story. The director needed to make better choice of how to portray their actions and better balance the humor with the drama. With you the film is fine, but for me the film doesn't go enough out of it's way. It just cuts and pastes cliched emotions. I wanted the kids to die. They annoed the crap out of me. Hate me if you want. Lol

I also think the fact that adults and parents that lived in the area being absent hurt any chances of taking the chracters seriously. I found no real human connection to the block; only rhetoric from a script.

It's not a matter of them being bad kids or from a poor area. it's a matter of the fact that Nothing made me like them at all. I felt the exact same way about the people in 'Cloverfield'. The aliens, the destruction of New York, and the suspense were excelent, but the people were so badly written and the dialogue was so stupid, I wanted them to all die, too. Lol

I saw Cloverfield on sale and thought about buying it, but then ai thought about the people that I'd have to put up with to see the aliens and special effects. I skipped it. But I might end up getting it. i can always turn the sound off and ignore what the people are doing. The same goes for this one. I'd buy it for cheap just for the aliens, but I'dhave to turn the sound off and ignore...nah, it's easier to just skip it.


Out of interest, why did you not buy that duality between how they behaved in front of girls/family/the other guys? I see it with teenagers all the time, not that I know too many kids like this but I know a fair few who like to pretend they're like this and then in front of their parents they're all butter-wouldn't-melt and gasp in pretend to be outraged along with their parents when they hear stories about drugs on the news despite the fact that they the them with their friends. Can't count the number of times I've heard people say on the phone to their parents that they're off to go see a movie or similar when they're off to get drunk and high.


To save myself time (because at this moment I'm feeling lazy) that's exactly what my mate and I thought with the protagonists.

I mean, there are anti-heroes, the type who you feel for or kind-of get on with, that is down to the writing of the characters. Written well, these boys may have had some sypathy or eagerness for us to get on with them. But right from the get go there wasn't any sypathy from beginning to end.

As for the OPs remark, starting with a death threat at knife point needs some serious character writing redemption and it never was done, so my sympathy was at an all time low for them until the end.

"Well I didn't expect a kind-of Spanish Inquisition!" - Monty Python


So a character's attitude is only ingrained and real if it's the same everywhere, all the time, in front of everyone? When they're kids?

Yeah, ok...

And anyway, maybe if they are kids 'fronting' and only pretending to be 'hard', maybe deep down they are actually good kids, which would make their redemption less false compared to their first half actions, right?
You seem to be saying their bad behaviour was false, but so was their good behaviour. So which part was the 'real' them? Especially considering that an incredibly high number of 14-15 year olds in the Western world are 'ignorant', as you put it (but still, films about/involving them are made and often enjoyed without vitriol being spewed in the comments)...

Maybe they are human beings full of greys, rather than just being black or white. Maybe they are kids struggling to figure out what they can and will be and which direction of life to go in. Maybe when you are a child, what you believe you can be is shaped by what you are shown you can be/what you are shown you are, so when you have zero guidance and the few adults around you are either *beep* or show you what is expected of you (by arresting, following and accusing you regularly), you begin to believe that that is what you are, but when you are called on to be a hero and shown that you can be one, that is the role you, as a child, step into.
Maybe, maybe, they are just like you and me??



I think the reason for many people refusing to allow any sympathy or emotional connection to the gang is pretty obvious. As soon as we see that group of racially diverse lower-class estate kids mugging a scared young woman, a thousand innate assumptions, presumptions, ingrained prejudices and dogmatic notions slam into place with so many people. They can't.. they WON'T get past that, and consequently hate the film for making these demons heroes. Of course few will admit to such notions, much less that they played any part in their thinking - but I find the unflinching hostility and adamant refusal to accept they could be regarded as anything but thugs rather telling.

I must admit that after the introductory scene I was rather curious to see how the film could possibly elicit any sympathy for these thugs after that - and was very impressed that it had actually managed just that by the end.

I have a somewhat different view from those who complain that these people "weren't believable", and perhaps that is due to my having lived and worked in such environments and with such people as my neighbours, colleagues, friends, enemies (and even some family members) - I know their stories, I know their triumphs and their sorrows, their relationships, in some cases their secrets - the lower down the social scale the more people live in close proximity; none of the net-curtained seclusion of suburbia where husbands and wives can carry out the murderous impulses in genteel, Martini-muted semi-detachment... but I digress...

I suspect that many viewers have had no contact with this part of society and views it largely though the filter of a hostile media, Daily Mail scare stories etc., with all the clich├ęd presumptions and misinformation that entails.

I was actually quite impressed by the authenticity of contemporary urban idiom and attitudes. And the interaction between the boys and the girls when they arrive at their flat is almost reality TV! in fact the writer used some of the actors' spontaneous comments about things in the story (i.e. "I'm not touching it, I don't want to catch Chlamydia"!).

Anyway, that's my two Cents worth - but as I'm in a good mood y'all can have it for free.

p.s. If you can't come up with a better response than "It ain't worth two cents!" don't waste your time. It's not big and it's not clever.

"You've got lovely eyes Dee-Dee, never noticed them before, are they real?"


This movie triesd to be hard, then it tried to be cute and that just rubbed people the wrong way.

There's only so much that can be done in such a brief film. I'd rather the film actually tried something new than maintained a pedestrian familiarity.

When they mugged the woman, Sam, I initially considered it a strange move; this being what most people think of today's youth anyway. It did try to have its cake and eat it by making the characters so forced in a comedic setting so that actually making a point about these people being kids raised in a poor environment seems hollow. You used the word cute, but it was an attempt on the part of the creator to actually put his own understanding across.

Was too much attempted? Well, yeah. But ambition is one thing British cinema has lacked for a while now.

Sayonara, not to be confused with cyanide, which is, of course, goodbye in any language.


When I started watching the film, I was convinced that the story was going to be about some other kids who fought the aliens because I couldn't understand how we were supposed to care about these kids?. The fact that the kids were black and the victim was white was irrelevant to me, the mugging made me hate them throughout the film.

The comment that really annoyed me was when Moses spoke about how the government were trying to kill off black people with monsters, after drugs and guns failed. I wanted to scream at the could he complain when he's perpetuating the stereotype. There is maybe some truth in his comment but you can't act like a victim whilst mugging hard working innocent people.

If that first scene had been cut, it would have made the film better in my opinion, we would have been introduced to a group of young teenage boys who thought they were tough but still cheered them on against the aliens etc. I appreciate they had bad backgrounds...but a lot of people do and they don't commit crimes or blame others for their misfortune. They get on with it and try to better themselves.

Forgetting that for a moment...there were some great one liners and I think the casting was great, especially for Moses, Pest and the two young kids

"My life is a show, a commercial for people to see how normal I am,when I am really anything but."


So are you just going to ignore how Moses grew throughout the film and realized the Government isn't to blame for all his *beep* I mean, that was the whole point. Just after he starts blaming the Government for his problems his best friend dies and everyone blames him. Half an hour later, seeing how he's covered in blood, he finally realizes he has to take responsibility for his actions and is prepared to pay the ultimate price to right his own wrongs.

Yes, he is a total wanker, but what would be the point if was just another little good kid? He was a horrible person, he realized he was a horrible person, he changed and he was rewarded for it. What's so bad about that story?

"I appreciate they had bad backgrounds...but a lot of people do and they don't commit crimes or blame others for their misfortune. They get on with it and try to better themselves. "

Yes. That was the whole point. That was what the film was trying to tell you. Why are you pointing this out if the film was pointing this out for you?


People need to stop wasting their breath trying to persuade a bunch of closed-minded idiots who want their lead characters presented as typical Hollywood heroes. Go watch the lame Super 8 if you want that. The MOST refreshing thing about this film, other than the fact that many of its major players were not white, was that the teens presented were not cuddly good guys or adorable nerds. They are products of their environment who do wrong even though they are old enough to know better. They are anti-heroes, boys who are fronting as if they are men because that's the way they hide their fears and insecurities. And, yes, they pay dearly for their actions and/or grow up diring the whole ordeal. I don't have to approve of their actions in order to find them intriguing any more than I had to like the deeds of, say, Tony Soprano to be fascinated by him. The best characters have flaws. And the best screenwriters takes risks. That is why this movie works so well and why it got such great reviews.



Great movie... Maybe I'm biased because i see myself in those kids, but their characters were some of the realest I have ever seen. In every movie I watch, I look at the main characters and ask, "Why are you doing that? Real people don't act like that." With the exception of Hi-Hatz, I can't remember more realistic reactions. And I hate when people try to use the whole "I can't root for a thug/gangster/bad guy" argument.

The Godfather, The Departed, American Gangster, Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Casino, Reservoir Dogs, American History X, Layer Cake, Sin City, Leon the Professional, Kill Bill, There Will Be Blood and a lot of other movies have less than "good" main characters and are still great movies.


I hate the protagonists. I wish everyone had died apart from Sam the nurse. Muggers and rug dealers are *beep*. Oh and the coppers didn't deserve to die.

"Hey! Ladies! That was fun!"


I'd hate them too if I were a simpleton who wanted to be spoonfed everything. The characters grew throughout the entire experience, that was the point of showing them mugging the nurse in the beginning and seeing how they changed at the end. It's not supposed to be all black and white but I guess some people want cheap entertainment that doesn't make them think.


It wasn't that at all. I didn't want a certain character in Shaun of the Dead to die after they redeemed themselves. I just don't like muggers/theives.

As for wanting cheap entertainment that doesn't make me think.... I like David Lynch and Darren Aronofsky so I do like intelligent films.

"Hey! Ladies! That was fun!"


It wasn't really the portrayal of the leads that ruined this film for me, it was the way it glamorized drug use/crime, killed police officers (why?) and I can't imagine anyone who has ever been mugged at knife-point would swallow the 'redemption'of the characters. I would also love to watch this film with a parent of any child that had been killed as a result of drugs/knife crime and see if they find it in the least bit funny. Just my opinion, of course.


I'm with you, Frenchy. I think Moses did the least he could after mugging Sarah.

"Hey! Ladies! That was fun!"


yep, 'cos she forgave him the second they barged into her apartment.. it's not like she obviously mistrusted him for quite a long time after he managed to kill the beast that followed them into the block. As for your point about hating the protagonists because they execute a crime with the threat of violence, i notice you carefully avoided the list another user posted above of films with main characters of questionable morals, i could add many many more.

"Yeah? Well, you know... that's just like, uh... your opinion, man"


To be honest, I hadn't seen that list til now. I hate everyone in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs but they're still great films. Never seen American History X, Layer Cake or The Godfather (apart from a few segments) as I know I will hate the characters. I like Leon as he only kills dicks who deserve it (as far as I can tell anyway). As for The Bride in Kill Bill, I can sympathise with her to a certain extent but I don't know the nature of the people she killed so it's harder to judge.

Of course, this is all subjective. There is no wrong or right answer. I can only judge things as I see them.

And thank you, Colin for pointing me in the direction of that list. :)

"Hey! Ladies! That was fun!"


Characters have to have some redeeming feature or why watch what happens to them?

Fact is, none of the gang grew or matured in any way and were driven throughout by the same evil and selfish behavior they demonstrated right from the initial mugging.

I was rooting for the aliens to help rid London of some of the scum like this gang.


Except, of course, that they DID mature and grow and they weren't driven by the same selfish behavior.

Moses explicitly takes responsibility for bringing the aliens to the block and then risks his life to take them out. He also very plainly attempts to make amends to Sam for the mugging. Also, multiple characters repeatedly call out Moses and the other characters for their actions. They aren't given a pass. One person even explicitly tells him that bad things follow wherever he goes.

I'm sorry, but don't loyalty to friends, bravery in the face of terror, amends for wrongs done and willingness to sacrifice ones own life to save others count as redeeming features these days?


Well, I was mugged at gunpoint by a group of five young African-Americans and I loved this movie.


Just watched this with my friend.. I'm white(ish), he's black.. We both found it very difficult to like Moses... We understood that he was basically an abandoned youth, forced to grow up at a very young age under some very harsh conditions.

We both recognize the points in the movie which you're meant to feel for him (early on when he lets the lady out of the back of the police van, when he tells her that she should go with the girls because he doesn't want anyone else to die, etc, etc). But he's just too unlikeable to forgive his shortcomings as a human being.

We both had the same WTF moment when he said that they wouldn't have robbed her if they knew she lived in the same block... Presumably because they would have felt some sort of kinship with her, living in the same area, living through the same struggles, having the same pride in where they come from, etc. We both thought "well that's all great, but.... YOU STILLL GET BY ROBBING OTHER PEOPLE!!!!!"

"You're going to need a bigger boat." - Chief Brody


I didn't like Attack the Block and it wasn't because I didn't think it was scary enough or because I don't understand the concept of the anti-hero/need the good guys good looking (um, no thanks; I'm not into cookie-cutter "beauty"), but because those kids were flat-out bullies. If Moses hadn't chased down and killed the first creature with his buddies, none of them would have been hurt or killed. One of the aliens killed the police officers, but it smelled the female alien's blood on them because they had patted Moses down, just like how the other aliens were chasing down the kids covered in the female's blood. Granted, the movie would have been OVER before it started, but it was his choice to go beat it to death that started the whole mess for their block. He mugs the woman, Sam, and intimidates her for a good portion of the movie. It's not until close to the very end of the movie when he realizes what his choices have caused, and by then, for me, it was far too late for that type of personal revelation for a main character.

Green Street Hooligans & Pitch Black are, to me, good examples of the type of anti-hero to root for. The guys in GSH are in football gangs, and they are brutal, but they look out for one another and don't pick on the weak or helpless. The character of Riddick in Pitch Black is an admitted murderer, but he has his own rules that he lives by, and you can see his internal struggle when he's thrown in with a band of people that need his help. Another good one is Boondock Saints - characters who are not typical "good guys," but you can feel for them because their characters are developed and you can see what they are going through, both externally and internally.

I thought Attack the Block had great potential, and some great scenes in it, but the characters weren't likeable to me. And yes, I know what the point of Sam seeing where Moses lives was supposed to signify, but again, it was too late in my opinion to try to work in sympathy for his character. On the flip side, the actors did a great job of portraying some awful kids.

And I agree with you on the WTF moment when Moses was telling Sam that if he had only known she lived on the block with them, they would have given her some sort of pass. Wow, what a charmer!

Goblin Cannonball: I hit something! Yes?!? No?!?


Well i'm actually Black and i'm from those rough conditions and I love Moses! The fact that most whites and brainwashed blacks think they are so righteous that no one deserves redeeming factors but them. "He who is without sin". Besides it was just a mugging, not shooting up schools or serial killing.

And the white guy from Shaun of the Dead gets by, by selling illegal drugs but I don't see any of you white people attacking him. Hmmm? He must have redeeming factors. You're all *beep* racist and try to cover it up by expressing other non-justified reasons for not liking somebody. But when racism is covered up, its easy to tell because your "other" reasons never make sense. Like the Obama election all over again. LOL! You are not as smart as you like to beleive you are.



I didn't like Nick Frost's character at all! I hate drug dealers. But I also hate muggers and it's nothing to do with colour. I just hate anybody who intimidates and bullies people. Believe me, I know a whole bunch of us white people who do that! And one of my closest friends is black. So I was definitely not being racist, thank you very much!

"Hey! Ladies! That was fun!"


I think we've gotten to the point where having unsympathetic protagonists is actually cliche. They're youre cookie cutter hero now.

They were not the most likeable bunch of people, but they did turn it around towards the end. Moses had an epiphany if you will.

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I don't get why it's such a big deal if people didn't like the protagonists, so what, they weren't liked, some of you guys need to stop acting as if you're insulted by it.

By the end of the movie I did feel some sympathy, and it was harsh how some of his friends died.

But yeah how they acted in the beginning was straight up annoying, I'll be honest the only reason I can say I like characters such as in pulp fiction depends on whether or not they're irritating, in movies (not real life I should add before someone tries to make some assumption) in movies it's not so much the crime, but how someone comes across when doing it, for me. When they robbed her they were proud of it, when they went after the alien they thought they were bold as brass, hard as nails, and what I liked about the situation in the rest of the movie was that they were taken down a peg or two off of their invisible ivory tower of fail.

It's got nothing to do with liking 1 dimensional, jock and cheerleader type character, I often find them annoying too, and there are some characters in shows and movies that are meant to be bad but you can't help but like in a way, everyone has a preference about what they do and don't like about someone or something.

But if they were meant to be annoying as hell, the kids in the roles did a damn fine job, I'll give them that.


I found it hard to enjoy because I totally detest that whole London gang culture, with scumbags running about like animals talking like Jamaicans.