Thursday, April 29, 2010

Random Film Review: The War Zone

Dir: Tim Roth | 1999 | UK | 98min

The Devon tourist board certainly won’t be doing Tim Roth any favours in the future. The only message of his directorial debut, The War Zone, seems to be a definite ‘Don’t Move To Devon’. Manic depression, incest, car crashes, empty pubs and cafes and a peculiarity for staring into space seems to be the only action happening in Devon.

It's strange that English actors or directors having worked in the States come back to England not having learnt a thing. The War Zone seems to be stuck in the murky kitchen sink ethos of sixties English cinema. We still have the stilted dialogue, the over-long shots, and that sense of entrapment, dread, despair and boredom that only England seems to offer (usually the feeling you get watching English films).

The film has none of the cinematic coups that the similarly themed film, The Cement Garden, had. Both films create their own worlds but in The War Zone you just can’t breathe. I longed for a bit of humour, a bit of Withnail to lighten the oppressive air. Why is everything so serious in England? Can we not have fun in our films? If we do, it always seems to be of the Carry On variety. I haven’t seen intelligent humour of the Withnail variety since… well, Withnail and I.

The War Zone oppressively lingers on flesh: Ray Winstone’s thick-set neck and back; Tilda Swinton’s Renaissance-like angelic face, Lara Belmont’s breasts (there’s more tits and arse than a porno), and most disconcerting of all, Freddie Cunliffe’s zits. Tim Roth seems to have observed Pudovkin’s maxim of montage: a man staring into space, blank expression on his face, intercut with various shots to imply meaning and feeling to the man’s blank expression. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now. Blank is blank.

Although Ray Winstone’s takes top billing, his part, although central to the film, doesn’t take up much screen time. His presence is felt throughout, his bulk is felt throughout, yet like the whole family in the film he is a non-person. Like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, the characters are ghosts, they don’t inhabit the real world – they inhabit a film.

Some scenes seem unnecessary: for instance, Tom recharging the battery on the camcorder. When I saw the camcorder I thought Sex, Thighs and Videotape (UK style) might be a better title. When I saw the rape scene in the war bunker I thought of Blue Velvet or a Francis Bacon painting. (Some of the dialogue feels improvised but the film is at its best when there’s no talking, just dark, desperate images.)

The brother says he misses his friends in London; I can’t imagine them missing him. It’s hard to tell if he’s simply a bad actor, badly directed (Tim Roth: “Right Fred, I want you to stare into space.” Freddie: “Okay Tim, I can manage that.”) or is meant to be playing a gormless idiot. For better or worse, it is Freddie’s film; we see almost everything through his frustrated, naïve, stupid, narrow eyes.

Freddie Cunliffe simply becomes annoying, by both his actions and his non-actions. He burns his sister with a lighter after she’s just been anally raped by her father and is in tears. Surely he’s not stupid enough to think she enjoyed it, or is he just jealous? The ending seems to imply that all the time Tom just wanted to get his leg over. Carry on up the anal passage indeed.

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