Tomorrow marks the release of The Kid Who Would Be King, the first film from writer-director Joe Cornish since 2011’s cult hit Attack the Block. It’s been a long wait, but I’m happy to report that Cornish has delivered the first great film of 2019. His reimagining of the legend of King Arthur is delightful, inspiring, and a joy for kids and adults alike. However, it’s also a far cry from Attack the Block with the main similarity being a plot that focuses on underdog kids forced to thwart a supernatural force to save their home.
While Attack the Block remains just as brilliant, funny, and thrilling as it was when it was released eight years ago, a recent viewing really landed a particular scene for me. If you still haven’t seen Attack the Block, stop reading because there are spoilers ahead. Go see Attack the Block and then come back.
The scene that jumps out at me is when Sam (Jodie Whitaker) goes down to Moses’ (John Boyega) apartment to turn on the gas so they can incinerate the aliens when he lures them down there. Earlier in the film, when all the kids are getting the gear to fight the aliens, the only home we don’t see is Moses, and it’s because Cornish is saving it for this powerful reveal. Sam enters his apartment and sees no adults, and in a heartbreaking moment, she sees bed sheets for a much younger kid. She asks if Moses has a younger brother, and he replies no. She asks him how old he is, and he answers “fifteen.”
So much is said in just that brief scene and Cornish doesn’t need to dwell on it because of how powerfully it lands. The first thing we realize is that while Moses’ friends may come from single-parent homes, they still have someone at home waiting for them and looking after them. For Moses, he lives with his uncle who, “Comes and goes. Goes mostly.” Then, by adding in that Moses’ can’t afford newer bed sheets or décor, we see that he’s living at a level of poverty even lower than his friends. And then the capper is his age.
The shrewd observation here is that Moses is not an adult. Society may want to treat him like one because of his skin color and his socioeconomic status, but he’s just a kid. He’s a kid who’s forced to steal and then forced to be a leader, not because that’s what he wants, but that’s how he has to survive. That’s a tremendous amount of sympathy for a character not because he’s cool (although Moses with his “Allow it,” is definitely cool), but because of what’s he silently suffering through.
All the alien stuff in Attack the Block is incredibly entertaining, but this scene is the heart of the movie. It shows that while these kids may come off as young punks in the opening scene, they, and especially Moses, deserve a closer look and our sympathy, not because they’re fighting aliens, but because their daily lives are a battle. Attack the Block doesn’t ask us to pity Moses, but it does ask us to at least understand him and see where he lives, if only for a moment.