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The War Zone

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The War Zone

Starring: Ray Winstone, Tilda Swinton
Director: Tim Roth
Rated: NR
RunTime: 99 Minutes
Release Date: January 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Kate Ashfield, Lara Belmont, Freddie Cunliffe, Aisling O'Sullivan

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Secrets -- every family has them, but some families' secrets are more shocking than others.

In the directorial debut of Tim Roth, an actor famous for such villainous roles as his Oscar nominated performance in ROB ROY, Roth tackles one of the toughest subjects possible, incest. The astonishing film, THE WAR ZONE, isn't as unwatchable as the title or the early buzz about the picture might suggest. With his almost reverential respect for his actors, Roth lets us share the inner strengths as well as the pain of the teen victims.

Alexander Stuart's sparse script, based on his novel, lets Roth tell the story through a set of incredibly strong visuals. The best actors can do more with their faces than their words, and Roth takes this ensemble cast to new heights of telling imagery. Speaking would just distract from many of the moments anyway. One look at the faces attempting bravely to hold back the tears and the explosive anger, and you know all you need to know.

To an outside observer or even a close neighbor, the patriarchal family in the movie would appear perfectly normal and happy. The gregarious and polite Dad (Ray Winstone) seems kind and gentle and the Mum (Tilda Swinton) just as sweet. Their children, 18-year-old Jessie (Lara Belmont) and 15-year-old Tom (Freddie Cunliffe), might appear a bit withdrawn but nothing more. There's even a new baby girl, which would appear to provide extra joy to their household. As the story unfolds and Tom learns the truth about his father and Jessie, the family dynamics change considerably.

In the movie's most telling scene, Tom finally gets just the evidence he needs, but it so sickens him that he immediately destroys it.

Roth isn't skittish about detailing the incest. The scenes are explicit, not to shock or to titillate but to make clear exactly what is happening and exactly how painful it is. Jessie, who spends most of the time with borderline tears, breaks out into profuse tears during the sex. Roth's approach thus strips away any hint of sensuality, exposing the raw abusive actions of the father. Roth said that he feels the material demands this level of frankness.

The normally picturesque northern coast of Devon in England, where the story is set, is shown at its bleakest. Filmed by Seamus McGarvey with a somber blue-gray palate, the land is pounded by rain and beaten by wind. With hauntingly sad piano music by Simon Boswell, the picture literally cries out to us in anguish.

THE WAR ZONE has but one counterpart, Ang Lee's THE ICE STORM. Both cut through the false exteriors to show us the inner workings of dysfunctional families. Neither is easy viewing, perhaps, but both are emotionally rewarding.

THE WAR ZONE runs 1:39. It is not rated but would probably be NC-17 for explicit sex, nudity, language and some violence. The film would not be appropriate for those under 18.

Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes

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