videocam Nil By Mouth

reviewed by Nick Burton

Published in Issue No. 16 ~ September, 1998

Nil By Mouth (Columbia Tristar), written and directed by actor Gary Oldman, is a remarkable first feature that brings us back to the tough, working class kitchen-sink realism of film makers like Ken Loach. This film is a fascinating, grim, violent and disturbing look at a dead-end existence in South London, filmed in a seemingly documentary style which, at times, carries the improvisational feel of a John Cassavettes film. The film follows the members of a working class family: Billy(Charlie Creed-Miles), a young man who spends all his time in search of a fix of heroin (this film is on the opposite end of the adrenaline spectrum from Trainspotting, however), his sad sister Val (Kathie Burke) and her brutal, alcoholic husband Ray (Ray Winstone).

Ray is a powder keg waiting to explode, and his rage hits a peak when he sees Val having fun playing a game of pool at a pub, his jealousy culminating in an episode of domestic violence so harrowing that it th film almost becomes too difficult to even watch. When Val tells Ray that she doesn’t love him and that she needs someone that can love her, it becomes uncomfortably clear that we will see the two together again. Indeed, the film’s final scene, in which the family is reunited to help the jailed Billy, there is the heartbreaking, unspoken realization that Val is resigned to her life as it is.

Flawlessly directed and written, Oldman has done an admirable job. The atmosphere is remarkable. The entire film looks as if it were shot in the early morning. Composed mostly of restless medium close-ups that gives his script a terrific intimacy, the movie feels personal. Add to that the fact that Oldman has dedicated the film to his father, and that there is a scene where a young boy named Gary is whisked away by his father from a bloodied Billy, and it becomes almost autobiographical

The only flaw in the entire film is Eric Clapton’s dreadful blues/reggae score. Someone – please – ban geriatric rockers from doing movie scores.

The acting is memorable, with Burke and Winstone particularly powerful. It’s the kind of film few people make anymore, and those who remember the brutal realism of Brit films of the 60’s (Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life, for example) will see that spirit reborn in Oldman’s tremendously effective work.

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Nick Burton lives in Newport Beach, California. His fiction has appeared in many small press and web publications, inlcuding: Chronicles Of Fiction, Pauper, and of course Pif.