Urban Cinefile
"I almost don't know what a character is until six months after I finish playing it "  -- Cate Blanchett
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday, December 16, 2017 

Search SEARCH FOR A REVIEW
Our Review Policy OUR REVIEW POLICY
Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE

Help/Contact

WAR ZONE, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Happily middle class Mum (Tilda Swinton) and Dad (Ray Winstone) move from London to a cottage on the Devon coast, with their 15 year old son Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) and 18 year old daughter Jessie (Lara Belmont). Tom is bored and lonely, until he discovers the terrible secret his sister has hidden from the family, just as a new (late) baby arrives. He can't bear to reveal it and he can't bear to keep it hidden . . . and he can't bear to live with it.

"Hailed as Tim Roth's 'haunting' directing debut, The War Zone is bleak, bitter but brilliant cinema, a gaunt study of an ordinary family with an extraordinary secret. He unravels it slowly, taking pains to establish each character to the extent he risks leaving us bored by the end of the first half hour - except for the spectacularly morose images of a dank, grey, rain soaked and ocean thumped Devon coast. The utter isolation of the cottage stands as a potent symbol for both Jessie's isolation and Tom's. Indeed, since Dad is isolated in his guilt-and-denial, too, the whole family is truly dislocated - yet Mum doesn't know it until it's too late. Nor does the world suspect; they laze about and eat dinner as any other family. It is this surface peace that Roth manages to unveil with dramatic power as he winds his way through the misty Devon landscape and mist covered souls of his protagonists. He takes us gently and slowly - with the sort of careful pace that is usually the domain of two hour epics - towards the end of the unraveling, and into an isolated concrete bunker on the cliff where we are left to contemplate the human condition. No easy answers. No neat resolutions."
Andrew L. Urban

In the past, whenever an actor decided he was ready to "direct", his debut effort would invariably turn out to be a small, safe project of minimum complexity and ambition but maximum hype. How times have changed. Taking his cue from fellow Brit Gary Oldman's stint behind the camera with the wrenching Nil By Mouth, Tim Roth has gone one better with a searing, sobering look at the role incest plays in the devastation of a close-knit family unit. Like Randa Haines' similarly themed (and much admired) 1984 telemovie Something About Amelia and Steven Poliakoff's 1991 theatrical feature Close My Eyes, The War Zone unfolds with the measured, ominous pace of an approaching storm. As adapted by Alexander Stuart from his own controversial 1989 bestseller, this is a film where bleak landscape becomes a participating character; where looks and smiles conceal secrets and lies; and where the unspoken word assaults the ear like a gunshot. Implicit throughout is the filmmakers' refusal to condone or condemn, allowing the consequences of each characters' actions rather than the reasons behind them to be the story's main focus. It's a tactic which may not sit well with those seeking a more cut and dried analysis but, along with its stark visual compositions (and terrific performances from veterans Winstone and Swinton, and newcomers Belmont and Cunliffe), it is a key component of the film's powerful psychological bent. In the end, as mirrored in Tom's wide, soulful eyes, it all adds up to a profoundly disturbing, quietly devastating portrait of moral and emotional betrayal."
Leo Cameron

"I'm not a big fan of Tim Roth as an actor - especially his face-pulling, capering comic performances. Arguably the same aggressive, dopey sensibility can be felt here, in the first film he's directed. Beyond its appearance of serious, adult ambiguity, this is a film that sets out to extract every possible creepy thrill from the depiction of sexual abuse. The hushed tones, the highly 'composed' still images, the harsh blue winter light that makes everyone's flesh look slumped and mottled like pale raw meat - all this creates an atmosphere of low-key, fascinated horror. It takes a long time for this horror to come to the surface. But from the first scenes on the film is keeping you aware (sometimes cunningly, sometimes with no subtlety at all) of how the normal physical intimacy of families - casual nudity, or a bit of flirtatious teasing - constantly threatens to spill outside the zone of what's acceptable. With too many bodies crammed together in a small space, it's all too easy for something to go wrong. When I first saw this film, I disliked it: the frequently precious dialogue, the lingered-on perversity, seemed like a cynical way of getting a reaction from an audience (it also recalled the bad side of Atom Egoyan). Looking again at Roth's undeniable cinematic skill, especially his control over actors, I wonder how far my response was simply defensive, a way of refusing to take the subject matter seriously. The War Zone is unsettling because it shows all its family members as complicit, to varying degrees, in an abusive situation - a complicity that extends to the filmmakers and the viewer as well. 'Do you get off on all this?' is the question Jessie asks her brother; ultimately, we're all forced to answer that question for ourselves."
Jake Wilson

Email this article

CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

TRAILER

See Andrew L. Urban's interview with

TIM ROTH

WAR ZONE, THE (R)
(UK)

CAST: Ray Winstone, Lara Belmont, Freddie Cunliffe, Tilda Swinton, Kim Wall, Megan Thorpe, Aisling O’Sullivan, Collin J. Farrell, Kate Ashfield, Annabelle Apsion

DIRECTOR: Tim Roth

PRODUCER: Sarah Radclyffe, Dixie Linder

SCRIPT: Alexander Stuart (based on his novel The War Zone)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus McGarvey BSC

EDITOR: Trevor Waite

MUSIC: Simon Boswell

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Carlin

RUNNING TIME: 95 min

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Niche Pictures

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 15, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTION: Siren Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: January 16, 2001







© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2017