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From the October 1999
Film Review

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THE WAR ZONE
4 Stars
Tim Roth directs Ray Winstone
Emotional Landscapes
STARS: Ray Winstone, Lara Belmont, Freddie Cunliffe, Tilda Swinton
DIRECTOR: Tim Roth
SCREENPLAY: Alexander Stuart
CERTIFICATE: 18 DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: Film Four
RUNNING TIME: 1hr 39mins
OPENING DATE (UK): September 3

Atmospheric and agonizing, The War Zone will stay with you for weeks afterwards. Actor Roth’s directorial début is dramatically devastating although, inevitably, his move behind camera draws comparisons between him and his contemporary Gary Oldman. This film is not the Nil By Mouth gritty kick in the teeth. It’s more of a textured rural nightmare.

A 2point2 kids family move from London to complete isolation on the Devonshire coast. Father Winstone is both affectionate and loving to heavily pregnant wife Swinton and their relaxed contentment offsets the teen restlessness of son Cunliffe and daughter Belmont. Away from the freneticism of London, Freddie starts picking up perturbing sexual tension between his father and sister and what starts as speculation and empty accusation becomes an obsession with exposing the horrible truth; that dad has been abusing his sister.

Roth handles Alexander Stuart’s very controversial novel with admirable skill. The whole film is permeated with stunning imagery, with the countryside and the sea becoming dark characters in their own right. Black cliffs falling sheer into tumultuous waves are an apt metaphor for the family on the verge of a slippery slope.

More impressive is that Roth allows his material to breathe. Long silences in family scenes and poignant establishing shots display a real directorial flair. The casting is also remarkable – newcomer Cunliffe is very impressive and Belmont gives her first ever performance having just been discovered by Roth whilst shopping on Portabello Road.

Far from being an easy ride, Roth has cut his teeth on the toughest stuff and handles the material with sensitivity and insight. What results is a painfully believable portrayal of abuse which leaves you sick to your stomach and faint of heart. But since when has child abuse been an issue to take lightly?

Lórien Haynes

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