Customer Review

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best British films ever made..., 18 Nov. 2003
This review is from: Nil By Mouth [VHS] [1997] (VHS Tape)
Nil by Mouth would be an important film if only for the fact that it reminded the good British public that Ray Winstone isn't just an asset to a film, but a resource all on his own! However, Gary Oldman's directorial debut is so much more than that - a searing, affecting film that leaves a lasting impression.
Exceptionally foul-mouthed, Nil by Mouth is a slice-of-life drama in the style of Mike Leigh or Alan Clarke (directors Oldman was very familiar with from having worked with them as a young actor); there is no classic Hollywood structure, no safety-net of a clear-plot through which we discover the characters. The cast of this film are never introduced, we are just thrown into the middle of their world and expected to adjust, treat them like people we have known for years. Because of this, the film's tale of domestic violence, alcoholism, heroin abuse and father-son relationship attains the kind of power lacking in most films. It helps that writer-director Oldman is writing about the world in which he grew up, and has populated it with real-looking (read: unattractive) actors.
Winstone is, of course, magnificent in the role of Ray, a marauding south London man on the brink of mental collapse, who takes out his unarticulated frustrations on his helpless wife Valerie, played with equal brilliance by Kathy Burke, who proves that she is far more than just a comic actress. Charlie Creed-Miles, Jamie Foreman and Laila Morse (now on TV as 'Big Mo' in EastEnders) provide sterling support.
It is a difficult film to watch, but not just because of its often-disturbing scenes of domestic violence. Oldman's commitment to realism means that all dialogue is extremely south London specific (almost incomprehensible to non-London viewers), and un-coordinated in that characters often speak over each other, making some of the dialogue inaudible. It takes a while to get used to, but it becomes an ingenius way of tricking the audience into believing that what they see is the result of a hidden camera in someone's living room/pub/car/garage.
Nil by Mouth is definitely worth seeing, more than once. It has hidden depths and sensitivity that become more apparent with repeated viewings. It is a genuine masterpiece of 'cinema verite' - the only question is: why hasn't Gary Oldman directed another film?
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