As unflinching and bleak as it is beautiful, Tim Roth's directorial debut, The War Zone, is remarkably accomplished filmmaking. Adapted by Alexander Stuart from his own novel, the film centers on a family that has just mov... more »ed from London to the wind-swept English seaside during winter. The relative isolation soon reveals an ongoing incestuous relationship between the working-class father (Ray Winstone) and his 17-year-old-daughter, Jessie. The middle-class mother (Tilda Swinton) has just given birth to their third child and desperately avoids knowing the truth, leaving Tom, the younger brother, with the horrific responsibility of exposing the family secret. Fearless in its hard-fought depiction of incest, The War Zone pulls no punches; this vivid portrayal of abuse within a family and the scathed consciousness that results is not for the faint of heart. True to his theater background, Roth doesn't explain how or where such brutal choices were first taken, choosing rather to let the actors bear the ambiguities and anguish of a terrible knowledge in the their body language. --Fionn Meade« less
"THE WAR ZONE (****) BY ROGER EBERT It must have been somethinglike this in medieval times, families living in isolation, cut off from neighbors, forced indoors by the weather, their animal and sexual functions not always shielded from view. Tim Roth's "The War Zone," brilliant and heartbreaking, takes place in the present but is timeless; most particularly it is cut off from the fix-it culture of psychobabble, which defines all the politically correct ways to consider incest. The movie is not about incest as an issue, but about incest as a blow to the heart and the soul--a real event, here, now, in a family that seems close and happy. Not a topic on a talk show. The movie takes place in winter in Devon, which is wet and gray, the sky squeezing joy out of the day. The family has moved from London "to make a fresh start," the mother says. They live in a comfortable cottage, warm and sheltered, life revolving around the big kitchen table. Mum (Tilda Swinton) is very pregnant. Dad (Ray Winstone) is bluff and cheery, extroverted, a good guy. Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is a 15-year-old, silent and sad because he misses his friends in London. Jessie (Lara Belmont) is 18 years old, ripe with beauty. This looks like a cheerful story. Roth tells it obliquely, sensitive to the ways families keep secrets even from themselves. Early in the film the mother's time comes and the whole family rushes to the hospital; there's a car crash, but a happy ending, as they gather in the maternity ward with the newcomer, all of them cut and bruised, but survivors. Back at home, there is a comfort with the physical side of life. Mum nurses her child, in kitchen scenes like renaissance paintings. Tom is comfortable with his sister's casual nudity while they have a heart-to-heart talk. Mum helps wash her men at the kitchen sink, Jessie dries her brother's hair in the laundry room, the family seems comfortable with one another. Then Tom glimpses a disturbing part of a moment between his father and his sister. He challenges Jessie. She says nothing happened. Something did happen, and more will happen, including a scene of graphic hurtfulness. But this isn't a case of Tom discovering incest in his family and blowing the whistle. It's much more complicated. How does he feel about his sister, and about her relationship with her new boyfriend Nick? What about his father's eerie split personality, able to deny his behavior and see Tom's interference as an assault on their happy family? What about the mother's willingness not to know? What about his sister's denial? Does it spring from shame, fear or a desire to shield Tom and her mother from the knowledge? ... The movie's refusal to declare exactly what the London episode means is admirable, because this is not a zero-sum accounting of good and evil, but a messy, elusive, painfully complex tragedy in which no one is driven by just one motive. When Tom is accused of destroying the family and having a filthy mind, there is a sense in which he accepts this analysis. One critic of the film wrote that a "teenage boy (from the big city, no less) would surely be more savvy--no matter how distraught--about the workings and potential resolutions of such a situation."... Incest is not unfamiliar as a subject for movies, but most incest stories are about characters simplified into monsters and victims... The father here is both better and worse because of his own probably traumatic childhood. He must long ago have often promised himself that he would be different than his own father, that he would be a good dad--loving, kind, warm, cheerful--and so he is, all except for when he is not. When he's accused of evil, he explodes in anger--the anger of the father he is now and also the anger of the child he once was. For a moment his son is, in a sense, the abuser, making Dad feel guilty and shameful just as his own father must have, and tearing down all his efforts to be better, to be different. Unsurprisingly, "The War Zone" affects viewers much more powerfully than a simple morality tale might. It is not simply about the evil of incest, but about its dynamic, about the way it does play upon guilt and shame, and address old and secret wounds. The critic James Berardinelli says that when he saw the movie at the Toronto Film Festival, a viewer ran from the theater saying he couldn't take it anymore and went looking to pull a fire alarm. Roth was standing near the exit and intercepted him, becoming confessor for an emotional outpouring that the movie had inspired. Roth is one of the best actors now working, and with this movie he reveals himself as a director of surprising gifts. I cannot imagine "The War Zone" being better directed by anyone else, even though Ingmar Bergman and Ken Loach come to mind. Roth and his actors, and Stuart's screenplay, understand these people and their situation down to the final nuance, and are willing to let silence, timing and visuals reveal what dialogue would cheapen. Not many movies bring you to a dead halt of sorrow and empathy. This one does. END"
Tim Roth, we hardly knew ya
Dan Balogh | New Jersey, USA | 12/30/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When Interiors was released years ago, Woody Allen fans were surprisingly introduced (for better or worse) to a dimension of the comic film-maker that they never knew existed. The arrival of this film has certainly surprised many in regards to its maker Tim Roth -- here we see a side of Pumpkin and Mr. Orange (Roth's breakthrough roles in his two Tarantino films) that we may have seen hints of, but which never prepared us for something like this. Not only does Roth demonstrate an eagerness to be involved with very dark, very serious Bergman-esque melodrama, but in doing so he demonstrates unequivocally his facility in being the directing hand behind it all.It's the depressing, dreary story of a family ripped apart by incest, emotionally draining, and not for all tastes. Roth, in his very impressive directorial debut, creates an atmosphere of unbearable hopelessness -- using isolated rocky locations, soaked in rain, wind and cold, and photographed in muted blues and grays, Roth's film canvas resembles something from Picasso's blue period with the amazingly sad face of Lara Belmont (as the abused daughter) echoing the gaunt, pale harlequins of that master's works. It's also remiscient of Ingmar Bergman, in story and in texture (have another look at Persona and you'll swear the two films were shot on the same beaches). By holding shots longer than expected (much like Ozu), and using spare dialogue, the contrasting emotional outbursts are unforgettable. Much credit should be given to the marvellous cast, without whom none of this would have worked: the aforementioned Belmont (her first film) is superb as the daughter, emotionally killed by her father; Freddie Cunliffe (also his first film) is very good as the confused younger brother who stumbles on the terrible secret; Tilda Swinton is sympathetic as the oblivious mother; and Ray Winstone, as the monstrous father, still manages to bring a touch of pity to his role. And while one could reasonably argue that Roth goes a bit too far in some scenes for shock value, the bottom-line is that he makes it work. It's a film you won't soon forget."
Prepare to be deeply affected
flickjunkie | 04/29/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The War Zone" is a brilliant and sordid character study of a dysfunctional family plagued by incest. This is Tim Roth's directorial debut and he clearly decided he was not going to play it safe. The film is a raw portrayal of the complex family dynamics that result from sex and sexual desire between family members.With the help of cinematographer Seamus Mc Garvey, Roth takes an art house approach to story telling, with masterfully bleak cinematography and inspired use of the camera. Especially effective is his use of silence, increasing the discomforting tone of the entire film. His unabashed presentation of the stark depravity and the raw emotion wields the impact of a cold slap in the face, simultaneously stinging and holding our undivided attention. The character study of Jessie (Lara Belmont) and Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is excellent, but leaves one of the most important questions nebulous. Roth flirts with the siblings' incestuous desire for one another, but leaves it implied, which I thought was inconsistent with his otherwise forthright style of storytelling. Was Tom motivated by love for his sister or by jealousy of his father's sexual competition? Was he his sister's protector or his father's rival? Both elements seem to be there, but Roth doesn't clarify. Although I have not read Alexander Stuart's book (upon which the screenplay is based), I understand that Tom's sexual jealousy was an important part of the story, so I don't understand why Roth danced around it. The story also could have benefited by a closer look into Jessie's feelings about her father. Was it strictly revulsion for repeated violations, or was she a willing participant? Again, both seem to be present, but we never really know. Moreover, the final scene fails to bring closure to the film, a closure that the viewer desperately needs after being juiced in an emotional blender. Yet, even with these unresolved issues, this is exceptional work for a first time director (or any director for that matter).The acting is phenomenal, especially when one considers that this is the film debut for both Belmont and Cunliffe. Lara Belmont presents a young woman being torn asunder by an emotional tornado, trying to appear as if nothing is amiss especially in front of her mother. Belmont's performance is provocative and gut wrenching. Freddie Cunliffe captures the desperation of Tom's dilemma with a sullen rage that emanates from his placid exterior. Given their ages and experience, both actors give unbelievably mature performances, again a tribute to Roth's directorial ability.This dark and unsettling film is skillfully directed and compellingly acted. I rated it a 9/10. It requires a courageous and intelligent viewer with a thick skin. It is decidedly not for the viewer who is put off by frank depictions of sex and incest. For the rest, prepare to be deeply affected."
Hard to find, hard to watch
publicvoice | Eugene, OR United States | 03/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is hard to find in that
your local Blockbuster will hesitate
to carry a movie with such a difficult
subject matter. Essentially, we see
the sexual abuse of a teenage girl
through the eyes of her brother.
Everything about this movie is
bold, the actors take great emotional
and physical risks as does the director.
Scenes are not blasted through with music,
he allows the nakedness of the situation
to hit you as it would the praticipants
in the film. Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton
let it all hang out(literally) in very
unflattering scenes. Such a willingness
to sacrifice personal dignity is hard to come
by in American cinema. As a recent example
though, Halle Barry performed admirably in
Monster's Ball- so not all is lost.
If you have been sexually abused in your
life you might want to avoid this film and
stick to therapy though. Proper treatment
of wounds does not always necessitate
And Congratualations for Tim Roth as
director. I hope he ignores the paltry
box office receipts and dares to bring us more."
publicvoice | 06/22/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Tim Roth makes a very convincing debut as director with this film, which is possibly *the* most disturbing and thought-provoking film I've ever seen. This is no TV-movie-of- the-week; these folks mean business. This film hits hard, and although rather calm in the beginning, slowly becomes absolutely horrifying. There were points in the film where I considered whether or not I should continue watching, and yet I think this is a great film because of its importance as a howl of pain in the face of domestic abuse. Roth shows he is a director with talent; it has the look and feel of the work of Terence Malick or maybe even Ingmar Bergman. He allows you the viewer to slowly be drawn into the relative calm of day-to-day family life, while "clues" to what is happening are subtly introduced. When the horrible truth becomes apparent, the effect is extremely shocking and disturbing. There is no hope in this film. It is a veritable cinematic ground zero; raw, helpless, painful to watch, as disturbing as Pasolini's "Salo", with moments of clinical detachment like Bob Fosse's "Star 80", and there are times when we are shown absolutely painful and dreadful scenes, but the camera looks on and does not back away. Watch "The War Zone", and I guarantee it will be near impossible to put it out of your mind."