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Tom (Freddie Cunliffe), an alienated 15 year old boy, finds the that opportunity for close observation of his father, after their move from London to rural Devon and the birth of a new baby, reveals a world run through with darkness and pain. Tom is unable to reconcile the life he's known what he sees with his own eyes, and blames his 18 year old sister, Jessie (Lara Belmont). Both Tom and Jessie struggle to find some path to truth and sanity as the human forces around them work in polarity with their isolation to either assist them, or destroy them. Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Tim Roth as director delivers a drama with the kind of gut-wrenching family story that happens only so often in the movies; not even Todd Field's films, however excellent, come close to The War Zone as being truly insightful into a specific dark corridor of a family slowly ripping itself apart. Part of it is the exceptional naturalistic acting, wherein actors I've never seen before like Lara Belmont and Freddie Cunliffe are subtle in just glances and stares to one another, and when they dig deep into the tragic parts of the story they're revelatory, maybe even more so than Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton. You can't take your eyes off of Cunliffe.
In the War Zone the family is a father, mother, son and daughter, with the mother giving birth to a newborn daughter at the opening of the film. The story, however rightfully thin, concerns the secret that Jessie and Tom holding fragility when Tom sees Jessie and their father in an incestuous act. There's denial, fighting, lots of scorn that grows between the two, while the rift between the son and the family becomes so thick that it could explode at any moment. But what's brilliant about the story, as well as rightfully heartbreaking, is how logically the tragedy unfolds, how the secret soon comes apart and leads into some unexpected scenes (one of which involving self-abuse, the other towards the end, a more conventional but still shocking act of violence).
Roth could be considered purely an actor's director, and he is one first and foremost. But he also is able to convey a profound sense of agony if only with the choice of scenery, of this quiet and dark seaside area and the bunker by the house where the incest takes place (apparently the R-rated version omits some explicit bits, but it doesn't feel compromised and actually helps by showing little), and the shots he films linger as much on the characters as in the viewer's mind. This isn't merely some pretentious decision but a deliberate choice that, somewhat akin to a Bergman picture, emphasizes those crushing beats that are much truer than something more stylish.
With the "unflinching eye", as some other critics have noted, Roth shows us things that make us uncomfortable, but because of this it doesn't lie and that's a great service through art for those who have been afflicted with abuse in families. At the least, it isn't a schlock-TV movie. A+
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