Thursday, February 10, 2000
"Child abuse is an epidemic that infects families across the social spectrum. If there is one abuser who sees this film and realizes what effect they''ve had on the child they''ve abused, it will have been worth making it," writes actor/director Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction, Rob Roy) in the press notes for The War Zone. Therein lies a huge flaw that runs through Roth''s cinematic rendering of Alexander Stuart''s successful yet controversial 1989 novel about incest. Obviously if Roth''s primary goal is to send child abusers into repentance, his objective is something different than making a great movie: Roth is attempting to devise a weapon to somehow punish abusers.
With this kind of agenda, the best Roth could hope for is that incest criminals would be so repulsed by their mirror image as reflected by Ray Winstone''s (Nil By Mouth) performance as a father who sexually molests his 18-year-old daughter, that they will run out and commit suicide. While The War Zone is affecting for its brave performances and cloaked depiction of a father''s warped psychology which permits him to deny his crimes even to himself, the movie sits as an uncomfortable pedestal from which to initiate Roth''s directorial career.
The story takes its title from an abandoned concrete war bunker along the coast of England which becomes a metaphor for a household in which incest takes place. Fifteen-year-old Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) and his older sister Jessie have recently relocated to Devon with their parents from London. Their pregnant mother (Tilda Swinton) and work-at-home father are comfortable walking around the house nude--but problems simmer beneath their specious level of familial comfort.
Freddie Cunliffe resembles a young disaffected Pete Townsend with his over-sized nose, acne-ridden face, and sullen demeanor. His quietly pained temperament suitably resonates the evils around him. As Tom begins to discover clandestine sexual activities between Jessie and their father he confronts her with his knowledge. Jessie directly denies any wrongdoing and attempts to refocus Tom''s preoccupation to his own burgeoning sexual desires by attempting to set him up with Carol, an older girlfriend in London. Jessie''s plan backfires and Tom distances himself even further from their father while attempting to protect his sister. Ultimately, he has no choice but to bring the crisis to a head himself. While their mother remains preoccupied with her newborn baby girl, Tom comes to take on the role of a judicial adult for the salvation of his family.
Thematic responsibility is an issue that Tim Roth has had difficulty with in the past. When interviewed at a premiere for director James Gray''s miserable film Little Odessa at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1995, Roth jumped to Gray''s defense when asked what the theme of his movie was. "That''s the problem with Americans, they always want to be spoon-fed answers and reasons for everything." While Grey went on to compare himself to Shakes-peare before the crowded auditorium, Roth berated the audience for asking for a concrete thematic statement.
Aside from unforgivably out-of-focus camera shots which riddle the film, and a cliche climax ending, The War Zone is a devastating film due mainly to first-time actress Lara Belmont''s finely tuned yet candid portrayal of a tragically victimized character. Belmont is mesmerizing on screen and one can only hope that her natural talent will find its way to experienced directors.
The War Zone... (Three Stars)Not Rated,99 min.
Director: Tim Roth
Starring: Ray Winstone, Freddie Cunliffe, Lara Belmont, Tilda Swinton
Where: he Dream Theate
When: See Movie Times