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Strange, opaque and deeply unsettling, the War Zone is the only way a
film about a topic as horrifying as incest should be. Tim Roth,
realizing that the family of the film is too far gone to elicit much
empathy from the audience, simply tries to convey the story as
truthfully as possible. With crushing results.
At the beginning of the film, we're introduced to a nameless clan: a genial father (Ray Winstone), a mother exhausted from recently giving birth (Tilda Swinton), a sullen teenage boy (Freddie Cunliffe), and his strikingly beautiful older sister (Lara Belmont). All four have recently moved from London to the remote, seaside village of Devon, leaving the two kids feeling isolated and adrift.
What follows for the next hour or so is a brilliantly confusing experience--Roth presents a series of odd quirks about the family that makes the audience question what is merely eccentricity and what hints at something darker. Why, for example, does the family walk around naked most of the time? Don't those siblings seem slightly too "affectionate" given that they're teenagers? What exactly does the boy see his father doing with his sister in the bathroom that bothers him so? All of this mystery leads up to an absolutely harrowing scene which leaves no mystery as to the dynamic between father and daughter. More emotionally explicit than physically so, the scene is rightfully regarded as one of cinema's more horrible acts of on-screen violence, yet doesn't feel gratuitous in the slightest.
This film is as sparse as possible, with almost no inflection or melodramatic effects. Scenes are generally shot in long takes with a static camera (gorgeously framed in widescreen). There is little excess dialogue, and almost no music. Often we are placed into the middle of confusing scenes that are open to numerous interpretations. We more or less have to come to our own conclusions about what is going on. The teenagers are as inexpressive and introspective as teenagers in real life, which makes there unexpected emotional outbursts all the more powerful.
Why Roth hasn't made any other films is beyond me. He has a lean, cinematic sensibility which is unmatched by any other actor-director. I hope he gets an opportunity to use it again soon.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film dealing with the subjects of rape and incest could easily be
sensationalistic and, consequently, undermine the very issues it supposedly
tackles. It is, therefore, highly commendable, and testament to Tim Roth's
skill as a director, that the War Zone does not cheapen its plot by doing
this, but instead, provides a sensitive, dignified and beautiful treatment
of the devastating effects of a father's depravity on the rest of his
family, and, indeed, on himself.
One of the most striking aspects of the War Zone is the stunning and epic cinematography. Filmed in Devon, on the southwest coast of England, bleak, grey skies, the vicious sea and jutting cliffs frame the desolation of the central characters of the movie: Tom, the son, and Jessie, the daughter. The former, a withdrawn teenager, is devastated when he unwittingly discovers the secret relationship between his sister and father, and struggles with hatred and horror for them both, as he endeavours to find out the depths of the depravity he is privvy to. Jessie is equally, though differently, affected by the actions of her father. As she attempts to hide the truth from mother and brother, while also in turmoil over her own part in the secret, she feels a burden that manifests itself in moments of self-loathing, anguish and despair. However, the true depths of these emotions are never laid out for the audience, never portrayed in such a way that they could simply wash across our path and be discarded; they are merely hinted at, shown in fleeting moments. The fact that the protagonists in the film are being tormented by the events they are part of is obvious; it is left up to the individual to interpret and imagine the depths of the feelings being felt. This subtlety serves to add realism to the film, and also heightens the harrowing effect of it, as the events and feelings hinted at, or partly displayed, are absorbed and twisted by the mind of the viewer, almost contaminating him by forcing him to do the work in fully comprehending the goings- on in the family; making him empathise with Tom.
Although the emotions and feelings the characters in the film undergo are shown in an equivocal manner, several scenes are, in contrast, stark, with events lain bare to the audience. Again, this could be a point at which the War Zone sensationalises the subject matter. However, even the supposedly shocking scene between Jessie and the father is portrayed with sensitivity through the dignified direction. Indeed, in a film made as the War Zone is, it would undermine the very realism of it to avoid showing what goes on between the father and daughter. It is a movie that endeavours to show the realities of abuse in a family, and to gloss over an aspect of this would lead to an unfulfilling exploration of the subject. To re-iterate, though, it is testament to the skill of Tim Roth, that while not hesitating to show the full horror of abuse on screen, he does so in a way that does not cheapen the feelings of those involved. Indeed, there is almost an air of gentleness in several of the more harrowing scenes; despite stark images being portrayed, one feels they are being shown in a highly respectful manner.
The War Zone is, in sum, a beautifully artistic piece of cinema. The cinematography, solemn, despairing music, slow yet strong direction, and fine acting contribute to a film that, though harrowing, is highly rewarding and enjoyable. I think the fact that it offers no answers or "satisfying" resolution to the events it has portray is again something the serves to add realism to the subject matter. After all, abuse is not a topic to be resolved without reducing it to trite concessions to viewers keen not to be forced to realise that some facets of life are not rounded, with simple answers and easy reprieves, but jarring and jagged, with no answers, resolution, or simple end.
The 1998 Danish Dogma film "The Celebration" (Festen) is another hard
medicine movie, intense drama about family strives and incest. The Danish
film shows the intensity through dialogs and character reactions. Tim Roth's
film cuts to the chase and shows the vivid horror of the actual act. Tim
does not skirt around the subject. He takes the subject right on and tackles
it directly and really shakes up the viewers. It's raw emotions -- nothing
sentimental. The actors are in their natural appearances with not much
make-up: Tilda Swinton you see her with the pregnant creased skin-folds of a
tummy inelegance; the two teenagers (Lara Belmont as Jessie, Freddie
Cunliffe as Tom) in their casual demeanor/slouching poses; Ray Winstone as
the seemingly unsuspicious father who looks like any man of the house, full
of himself and chatting incessantly (in a way, an indication of certain
insecurity and self-doubt?).
We don't get to see the predator's face much. Director Tim Roth wants the focus on the heinous act vs. personal faces, which could be anybody who has had such traumatic experience at home. Home is where the trust and warmth of a family together should be. Through Tim's delivery, we see the coldness and frustration the two teenagers face, esp. Tom the son, who discovered the wrongful act accidentally and felt confused and unable to talk to anyone about it -- his sister, the victim, just as confused and unable to talk about it. The different levels of fear that each member of the family has A poignant film, with explicit scenes sensitively choreographed, demands viewers attention to the tough subject at hand. We can't turn away -- the inevitable merciless truth presented in our face on the screen. It's a bold attempt. This film calls for attention to the subject of incest and its traumatic consequences beyond imagination. Roth succeeded.
Whew. At a loss for words. You really feel like your gut has been ripped
out after watching this truly sad story. Lara Belmont definitely deserves
some kind of award for this; her role of Jessie, the sexually abused
daughter is amazing. I didn't know who to feel sorry for most, Jessie, her
brother, or the mother.
The love between brother and sister through this dilemma is tear jerking. Rarely has a movie caught such realism in the expression of utter despair and hopelessness. My desire to reach through the screen and strangle the father was outweighed only by my desire to hug the daughter, and root for the brother. It's hard to believe this actually happens for real, but unfortunately the reality is, it does. I think part of the "penalty" for such a horrible thing as incest and child abuse is to watch "The War Zone".
The cinematography is outstanding and serves as almost a beautiful counterbalance to the main story's theme. I guess it takes some of the best scenery in the world to help balance _that_ out.
This film easily gets a 10, and deserves every bit of it.
I have seen many powerful films in my life, but few compare to the
off-beat, unsettling and totally uncompromising 'War Zone', actor
turned director Tim Roth's first film. Many people despised it for
being so raunchy, straight-forward and too realistic, while others
praised it for that very same reason. 'The War Zone' is a very
hard-to-watch film because it portrays incest -- such a terrible and
disgusting event going on in some families today. I was repulsed by the
film's haunting and brooding score, but I have to say I was amazed
also. 'The War Zone' is a brilliant film and an incredible first effort
from Tim Roth.
'The War Zone' follows an isolated British family living in the lush green hills somewhere in England. The family consists of a dad (Ray Winstone - Sexy Beast), a mum (Tilda Swinton - The Deep End), a baby (Megan Thorp), a in-her-late-teens daughter (Lara Belmont) and a in-his-younger-teens son (Freddie Cunliffe) who's perspective the film is shot from. Everything seems to be going so excellent for this new family with the new baby and all, until one day the son sees something he's not supposed to -- the dad molesting the daughter. This tears this seemingly happy family apart and it comes to a huge, yucky boil at the end of the feature.
'The War Zone' moves a little slow towards the beginning but in a way that it is it's only flaw. Tim Roth does a semi-amateurish but mostly consistent job directing while Alexander Stuart provides an incredible screenplay that should have picked up an Oscar nomination. The cast is astounding with a powerhouse lead performance from Ray Winstone that proves him to be perhaps one of the finest British actors working in film today. Tilda Swinton is excellent for the limited screen time her character as 'mum' has, while the movie in a way belongs to the kids. Freddie Cunliffe is extraordinary in his role, while newcomer Lara Belmont is spellbinding in every scene and never ceases to bring emotion out of the viewer. Supposedly she was working at 'Burger King' before she did the film. I think it's safe to say she won't be working there anymore. The camera-work is really low-budget and the DVD frustrated me because it had no subtitles.
All in all, Tim Roth's 'The War Zone' is an amazing motion picture but a crappy DVD. The poorly-formatted DVD is worth buying just because of the awesome quality of the movie itself. If you love and appreciate film and think you have a strong enough stomach for this one, be sure to do a 100-meter dash to the videostore and snag a copy of 'The War Zone'. Grade: A-
A melancholic boy faces the prospects of adapting to life in a craggy, rugged English countryside separated from the London he knows. We soon discover things are going to go from bad to worse. "The War Zone" is a special film about incest taken entirely from the perspective of the teenage son, Tom, and his sister, Jessie, giving it a quality of children versus their parents. Incest has been broached before in other films like "Celebration" and "The Sweet Hereafter" but never with such all encompassing realism as "The War Zone". You feel like a voyeur prying in other people's business. Director Tim Roth presents scene after scene of stark, uninviting, seashore landscapes as well as a mesmerizing movie score that vacillates between rushed crescendos and unnerving calm to give "The War Zone" a cold, somber tenseness. The acting is outstanding but Freddie Cunliffe as Tom and Lara Belmont as Jessie carry the film with their brave, demanding portrayals. Tom must weigh the secret he knows with preserving the stability of the home. He is so perplexed about normal love and the mere act of lust that when he comes upon attractive neighbor, Lucy and the set-up vixen, Carol, he becomes stupefied rather than attracted to them. Jessie must walk a fine line between the sex act she craves and her sense of right and wrong. Indeed, at one point, we sympathize with her less because she doesn't seem to mind her predicament. "The War Zone" ends in a way some will find unsatisfying but it is very consistent with the film's theme - lost children who will never find their way back.
A young family moves from London to a remote country house. The young son
suspects that his sister and his father's relationship is more than it
should be. As he looks more and more into it he finds a sinister element
that his mother does not see.
This was Tim Roth's directorial debut and he certainly wasn't looking for a popcorn hit. The story by Alexander Stuart from his own novel is very slow and deliberate but is ruthlessly effective. At first the whole family seems to have a strange sexual edge to it - the mother breast feeds in full view, the teenage brother and sister lie naked in front of each other etc. It gives things a strange feel but it's quickly forgotten when you get used to it. The guts of the story revolves around the father's sexual abuse of his daughter Jessie, who no longer fights but accepts it as part of her life. Some of the scenes - in particular the scene' - are too hard to watch and the whole thing is very powerful. The film develops slowly and does not allow the father to be a monster-type (the British media have a habit of demonising people rather than taking objective views). Here the film doesn't let him become a caricature even when his crimes come to light.
The cast are roundly brilliant. Winston plays it perfectly all the way and doesn't take the `monster' route. Freddie Cunliffe is excellent as Tom - although all he has to do is mope around the place. Lara Belmont is outstanding - this must have been so difficult to play but she is absolutely excellent throughout. Swinton is good as the mother, but her character is not well used or developed.
Overall it's very hard to watch. Roth's direction is a little too clever but is very good generally. A powerful story very well told - but it may not be to everyone's liking.
I went to see Tim Roth's directorial debut "War Zone" to get insight
into a deeply talented actor, much as that's a reason to see Sean
"War Zone" is a cross between "Once Were Warriors," the visceral NZ movie on domestic violence, and "Wuthering Heights."
It's visually stunning, painterly, as the dysfunctional family is set in almost Edward Hopper-still life isolation on the moors, surrounded only by the elements--lots of rain, sea and relentless wind--with the characters mostly silent you sure hear that howling wind instead of conversation-- with an occasional human being staring them down.
While the family's close-knit physical intimacy was realized in an almost 17th century way of togetherness, I'm not sure the abuse was, as I thought most incest more pedophiliac than this. So the universality of any message is lost, other than the lesson that family members are love-tropic and take it any way they can get it with some fine lines dividing functional from dysfunctional.
If Bergman did an abuse movie, it might look like this. Excellent acting all around, though as usual some working-class Brit accents can be hard to decipher by an American. (originally written 12/31/1999)
I was warned so much in advance that I entered the cinema wearing a
(virtual) bullet proof vest and was equipped with two packets of Kleenex. As
the film ended, I found myself oddly desensitised. I felt like someone
punched me in the stomach and I was left out of air, almost hollow.
Roth, following his mate Gary Oldman, has chosen a courageous yet uncommercially viable issue to tackle in his directorial debut. Nevertheless, aided by gifted photographer, Seamus McGarvey, and inspired casting, Roth's film is a triumph.
The stunning and clever location, the 'understatedness'/'Englishness' of the characters, the harrowing soundtrack, the unanswered plot threads, all make for a disturbing, horrifying, and unmissable film experience.
Thumbs up for Tim Roth.
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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