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3 reviews, 16 user ratings

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War Zone, The
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by iF Magazine

"Physically beautiful and symbolically potent."
4 stars

THE WAR ZONE is a spectacularly disturbing film that continues to cast a bleak spell even during post-viewing dissections of its themes and tactics. Director Tim Roth welds the environment, both exterior and interior, to the mood while eliciting extraordinary performances from his four principals. However, Alexander Stuart’s script, adapted from his novel, is so intent on maintaining its young protagonist’s confused, often inarticulate point of view that the film sometimes becomes overly elliptical.

When we meet Tom (Freddie Cunliffe), he seems like a lot of other adolescents, sullen at his family’s move away from his friends and city life in London for rural domesticity on the Devon coast. For all his sulking, even Tom secretly assumes his family is more or less normal. There’s gruff but kind Dad (Ray Winstone), loving and sensible Mum (Tilda Swinton), 17-year-old sister Jessie (Lara Belmont) and new baby Alice. Any household tensions can be blamed on general adolescent rebellion, specific resentment about the remote homestead and adjustment to the infant. Then Tom witnesses something odd between his sister and father. He confronts Jessie, who denies what he’s seen – and then the audience, along with Tom, sees a far more disturbing incident. Tom wants to bring the abuse to an end but, with a 15-year-old’s sense of personal injury and powerlessness, he’s as liable to harm as he is to help.

The filmmakers’ continued choice to put Tom front and center is both brave and off-putting. Tom’s reaction to his sister’s plight is consistent with his age and experience, but initially so harsh that it’s almost as dismaying as the act that prompts it. Precisely because we see through his eyes, we recoil when his first reaction is to lash out at the victim rather than the perpetrator; we’re implicated in his behavior. Jessie’s swings between a cool façade and bottomless self-loathing are equally credible but are easier to take, despite how harrowing they are to witness – at least we’re allowed to feel straightforward sympathy for her.

The film comes unglued a bit in its latter portions. There’s an off-screen interaction between Jessie and a woman friend that results in a surprising situation for Tom; while we know that he can’t be privy to the conversation, it’s impossible to imagine what was said to produce such an odd result. A crucial plot point concerning baby Alice is handled so ambiguously that some viewers (as proved in post-screening discussions) may miss it entirely and therefore wonder at Mum’s sudden change of heart. Those who do pick up on the hint may be so distracted by the new information that they’re still mulling it over as the rest of the drama unfolds.

This is a shame, because Roth’s skills as a filmmaker and the visceral work of the cast create scenes that linger in the mind. Roth’s use of a concrete bunker on a high cliff as the setting for WAR ZONE’s most immediately unsettling scene has the logic of both reality (it’s an ideal location for someone who doesn’t want to be watched) and nightmare psychology. Roth deliberately uses chiaroscuro lighting in many shots, letting the half-seen faces visually underscore the shadowed truths of the characters. The results are physically beautiful and symbolically potent.

However, because the characters in THE WAR ZONE are all so lacking in self-awareness and in empathy, we remain at an emotional distance from them. We pity their pain, we believe it as we see it and we contemplate it later, but we ultimately can't quite feel it ourselves.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3422&reviewer=119
originally posted: 12/19/99 06:54:40
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User Comments

11/18/04 Carly Austin After viewing over two years ago...it still comes to mind when I thiink of great film. 5 stars
5/11/04 amir. m war zone is an absolutely flat mirror of life 5 stars
3/31/03 Jack Sommersby A brave, probing, insightful family drama that will leave you spellbound. 4 stars
7/14/01 Suzz Even given the subject matter, this is a dreary little film full of brooding looks and rain 2 stars
7/07/01 Alan Keys Not worth seeing unless you, sadly, can personally relate to it. Choose another movie. 3 stars
1/21/01 The Bomb 69 incest is the best put your daughter to the test!!! 5 stars
12/22/00 Kook People should really take their kids to see this film. Painful, but leaves an impression. 5 stars
12/10/00 da shit near-perfect 5 stars
8/28/00 Edgar Poe A masterpiece (U.S. sucks) 5 stars
8/07/00 andymase A real masterpiece of acting and directing. 5 stars
7/06/00 matthew smith impossible to forget 5 stars
6/29/00 Bokonan At times extremely confronting, very well made, brilliantly acted - worth seeing 5 stars
6/16/00 Belinda Tim Roth thinks he has a hit with this one...NOOOOOOTTTT !!! 2 stars
5/26/00 Jaime N. Christley Tough subject matter betrayed by shallow approach and agonizing overlength. Great acting. 2 stars
1/24/00 PervertedPixie Ouch! This is painful viewing. But Roth directs beautifully, with sensational performances. 5 stars
12/19/99 Mr Showbiz Broodingly, stuninngly realistic portrait of a familial self-destruction. 4 stars
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  10-Dec-1999 (R)



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