Can we all agree that Gary Oldman is badass and remarkable actor. I mean he has been on an amazing kick these past several years with memorable roles and even going further back into his filmography with the over the top villains and heroes that make this man a joy to watch on screen. While I should be talking about film that he has a prominent role in for today’s post and early praising I did, I want to concentrate on something that few people have probably seen or even heard of. Back in 1997, Gary Oldman wrote and directed a film that ended up on Britain’s Top 100 British Films of all time. It has won numerous awards and BAFTA’s galore, but it was the only film that he has directed or written, never coming back behind the camera.
A working class British family struggles with their demons — sometimes violently — in this intensely emotional drama that marked the directorial debut of actor Gary Oldman. Janet (Laila Morse) is a widowed factory worker who shares her home with her aged mother Kath (Edna Dore), her daughter Valerie (Kathy Burke), her son Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles), and Valerie’s husband Ray (Ray Winstone). Ray is an unstable and out-of-work alcoholic who often uses his pregnant wife as a punching bag, while Billy is a drug addict whose habit has led Janet to throw him out of the house more then once, only to take him back later. Janet is uncertain about what to do when Ray’s latest tirade sends Valerie to the emergency room, and Janet also has to come to terms with the financial and emotional costs of Billy’s addiction. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Nil by Mouth is brutal and unrelenting drama that never flinches when the punches are being thrown and the demons of life are on display. A rough film, even for me, in which characters misery are the forefront of the films message, leaving us with a heavy heart and blacked out eyes. Often times the psuedo-documentary feel to this movie will blur that line between fiction and reality, even with the autobiographic lean that Oldman uses from his time in South East London as a youth. It is a heavy film to sit through, often stomach churning because of what you are witnessing on screen, but there is no denying the solid impact and impression that the film leaves you with.
While Oldman crafts this rich, gritty story, the actors convey the misery on screen perfectly. Ray Winstone, who is an incredible actor even if you don’t immediately recognize the name, plays the broken, abusive husband Raymond. His life is marred by his inner demons and that of the family he has. He doesn’t know how to cope with or even deal with those of wife’s brother. He lashes out, seeking solace in violence even if it is at the cost of his wife’s safety. Kathy Burke plays the wife Valarie, whom is struggling to keep everyone together and sane. Nothing is easy for these characters and unlike most character driven films, this does not resolve their problems like traditional family films. Their demons and problems are as real as they can be for a movie, tinged with the knowledge that there are people in life who are currently going through this. Battling themselves and trying to keep it together. The film doesn’t set out to make a statement that people are inherently evil, just that there are some that succumb to the demons within and can’t get out. Winstone and Burke are emote and convince us that what they are going through is real, turning in award winning performances of a fragile couple.
This isn’t an easy movie to watch nor will there be a happy ending to all of us. This is in the same vein as “Dancer in the Dark” or “Requiem for a Dream”, a story that has no happy or resolute ending. Real life is not always like that, so the surreal notion that viewing this family tear apart at the seams makes it even more difficult to watch. But within the brutal tone of the film, Oldman manages to convey pity and misery through their actions, never making us hate the characters. It’s hard to say that when you watch Winstone be abusive, you won’t be angry at him, not to the point of loathing the character or calling for his head. You feel remorse for a man who can’t control the conflict he has inside of him and trying to right the wrongs of the family. A gorgeously, relentless does of reality amongst the traditional films that leave a family film on good terms, Nil by Mouth breaks that mold and offers up the harshest reality of all.