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withdrawn but nothing more.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
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