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(1998) (Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke) (R)

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Smoking Tense Family
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Drama: A lower income woman must deal with her abusive, alcoholic husband, while her mother must deal not only with that, but with her drug-addicted son as well.
In a lower income South London neighborhood, Janet (LAILA MORSE) is a middle-aged single mother with many worries. Her adult daughter, Valerie (KATHY BURKE), is in an abusive marriage to Raymond (RAY WINSTONE), a no-good, alcoholic, chauvinistic creep. He constantly abuses her, and does so in front of their young daughter. Meanwhile, Valerie's brother Billy (CHARLIE CREED-MILES) is a hardcore drug addict who, when not shooting up, is badgering his mom for money or stealing it from Valerie and Raymond. When Raymond nearly beats Valerie to death and causes her to miscarry, she moves in with her mother and grandmother, Kath (EDNA DORE). From that point on, Valerie and the others hide from Raymond who quickly begins to fall apart and become increasingly dangerous and destructive.
Probably not. Without any well-known performers in the cast and less than appealing sounding subject matter, most kids will skip this film.
For graphic drug use, nonstop strong language, brutal domestic violence and some nudity.
  • RAY WINSTONE plays an alcoholic, drug using, wife beater.KA
  • THY BURKE plays a wife who finally leaves her husband and his repeated abuse after he severely beats her.
  • CHARLIE CREED-MILES plays a seriously addicted drug user.
  • LAILA MORSE plays the mother who must deal with a drug-addicted son and a daughter who's in an abusive relationship.


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    A powerfully disturbing look at life in a South London working class neighborhood, this a bleak film that's hard to sit through. Written and directed by actor Gary Oldman ("Air Force One," "The Fifth Element"), the work is reportedly based on his memories of growing up in a South London family. If that's true, and if he went through what occurs on screen -- or something similar -- then that much more credit should go to him for becoming a success despite the atrocities and depressed behavior to which he was exposed. It may also describe some of the characters he chooses to play and the level of intensity he often projects into them.

    By shooting in a hand-held, documentary style, Oldman gives the film even more of a disturbing twist. Since it looks and feels like a documentary -- which we usually associate with being a slice of "reality" -- the film is very uncomfortable to watch. The camera work is often shaky, and vehicles and other objects often block our view of what's happening. One gets the feeling that what we're seeing is real, and the fact that the film is filled with brutally grim material doesn't help that matter.

    Nearly everything is bleak, and there seems to be little hope for these people's lives, although some positive growth finally occurs toward the end. Oldman has succeeded in creating his desired effect, but it's questionable how many viewers will think that's a good thing. Beyond the domestic abuse, drug use and other material, the rampant profanity -- that roughly averages out to about one use of the "f" word every twenty seconds for more than two hours -- will also put off many viewers.

    The fact that most audiences won't recognize any of the cast members further strengthens the documentary feel, thus heightening the effect that we're watching real strangers. The performances are very strong and captivating, but the problem lies in the fact that few of the characters are likeable. While that adds to the uncomfortable feeling that permeates the film, it also only "helps" in making the feature nearly unbearable to sit through.

    Obviously one roots for Valerie, the abused and pregnant wife. Like a shell-shocked war victim, she passively accepts her position in life. As portrayed by Kathy Burke (from the BBC's "Absolutely Fabulous"), Valerie doesn't care anymore and drinks and smokes despite being pregnant. One also gets the impression that her five-year-old daughter -- who we often see sitting on the fringes and absorbing the abusive behavior -- will probably grow up just like her mom in an endless cycle of abuse and despair.

    The terror behind all of this is Raymond, the alcoholic, drug using, abusive husband. Actor Ray Winstone (another British TV and theatrical performer) has created such a villainous monster that his character should go down in the annals of filmdom as one of the cruelest creations to hit the silver screen in quite some time. Unlike similar Hollywood portrayals that are often slickly conceived, this guy is raw, pure evil, and Winstone plays him so convincingly that you hope that he's not that way in real life. Since he's most likely not, one then hopes that after seeing this film, people won't flee if they happen to see him. A poster boy for the deluded people out there who defend their actions by saying, "I do it because I love you," Raymond self-destructs as the story progresses. Winstone's performance is strong and mesmerizing, but very ugly.

    The other part of the story deals with Billy, also played effectively by Charlie Creed-Miles ("The Fifth Element"). A down and out junkie, he's often involved in threatening and/or violent altercations. Much like Raymond, we know this guy will never get better, and it's depressing to see these characters continuing down their paths of self-destruction. Perhaps the hardest to watch, however, is Laila Morse as the mother who tries to take care of her dysfunctional kids. Morse delivers a fine performance, and it's surprising to learn that this is her first acting role. She does a perfect job at creating the despondent mother who still wants to help her kids, but realizes it's a losing battle. The scene where she watches Billy "shoot up" is moving, as are the moments where she'll do anything to protect her daughter, much like a wild animal will if she feels threatened. As she watches her son, her eyes fill with both fascination and horror -- she can't believe what she's seeing, but she can't help but continue to stare.

    That's pretty much the way you'll watch this film too. Beyond the atrocities that occur, the film is also difficult to watch due to the thick accents and the often muddled delivery of dialogue. Like many other films that showcase actors speaking English with thick, localized accents, it takes a while to get accustomed to what the characters are saying. That only adds yet another frustrating level to the film, and the fact that many of the verbal exchanges come in the form of yelling and screaming matches doesn't help either.

    Certainly not a happy or uplifting tale, this is a disturbing look at life most of us would rather not see, and many will probably feel the same way about this movie. Perhaps making this film was cathartic for Oldman -- cleansing the demons of his past -- but I doubt many moviegoers will want to watch or be part of the process. Bleak and disturbing, and featuring some strong, but unlikeable performances, this is a decent directorial debut for Oldman. Let's just hope next time he picks a more likeable and pleasant subject. We give "Nil By Mouth" a 4 out of 10 simply because its raw ugliness nearly makes it unbearable to watch.

    Definitely not a film for most kids (and many adults for that matter), this is a grim and dreary look at life. A husband abuses his wife (mentally and physically) and pummels her so badly in one scene that she miscarries and later has a horribly bruised and swollen face. He's also an alcoholic and snorts cocaine, while his brother-in-law is a hardcore heroin addict. There are several glimpses of a woman's bare breasts and then of a bare butt. Profanity is extremely extreme, with more than 400 uses of the "f" word and forty-some uses of a slang term for female genitals. Although it's doubtful that many, if any, kids will want to see this film, you should definitely look through the material before anyone in your home sees it.

  • Billy is a hardcore drug addict, and we see him "shooting up" heroin (or a similar drug) several times or inhaling its boiled smoke. We also see him buy some drugs in one scene from a dealer.
  • We see Raymond snorting cocaine.
  • Raymond, Billy and a friend pass around and smoke a marijuana joint.
  • Nearly everyone drinks throughout the movie (beer and other liquors), with Raymond clearly being an alcoholic and drinking vodka and other liquor straight from the bottle in several scenes. In one, he's extremely drunk.
  • A friend of Raymond's talks about being at a party where he was rolling a joint, and later mentions that he had a heart attack after taking all sorts of drugs.
  • Billy's hand is very bloody as he holds his nose that's even bloodier (after Raymond has bitten it). We later see his nose that's still bloody, swollen, and quite gross looking.
  • Valerie's face (as well as her leg) is horrendously swollen and bruised after Raymond has kicked and stomped on her face.
  • Raymond has a trickle of blood on his head after he's been beaten.
  • Raymond's hand and arm are quite bloody after apparently cutting himself while trashing their flat.
  • Raymond has extreme cases of both as he mentally and physically abuses his wife but then says that he loves her and that's the reason he treats her that way. In one scene he verbally berates her for wanting a night on the town and tells her, "You'll do what you're f*cking told!" (while he goes out all of the time whenever he wants). In another scene, he beats her so badly that her face is horrendously bruised and swollen, and she later miscarries.
  • Billy has both as not only is he a drug addict who gets mad at his mom if she doesn't give him money to buy more drugs, but he also rifles through Valerie and Raymond's home and steals money and other items to pay for his habit.
  • Valerie smokes and drinks while pregnant.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • The many scenes where Raymond abuses Valerie and later tries to get to her (while she stays at her mother's flat) will also be tense to viewers.
  • Knife: Held by Janet as she prepares herself in case Raymond manages to get into her flat.
  • Knife: Held by a man who's chased Billy and his friend into a laundromat.
  • Phrases: "Geezer," "Piss," "Pissed," "Come" (sexual), "Shut up," "Bastard," "Balls" (testicles) and "Bitch" (toward women).
  • We see Billy "shooting up" heroin and others doing drugs.
  • Billy rifles through Valerie and Raymond's home and steals money and other items to fund his drug habit.
  • One of Billy's friends has tattoos all over his body, as well as pierced nipples and eyebrows.
  • We see part of Billy's bare butt as he squats down to remove some hidden drug paraphernalia from his rectum (the latter is not actually seen).
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Due to the heavy and occasionally unintelligible accents, and the rapid fire delivery of profanity, the following should be considered a minimum.
  • At least 428 "f" words (with at least 3 used sexually, plus some similar slang terms), 8 "s" words, 41 slang terms for female genitals (the "c" word), 10 asses (6 using "hole"), 3 hells, and 3 uses of "Oh my God," 2 uses of "Oh God," and 1 use each of "God" and "Jesus" as exclamations.
  • One of Raymond's friends tells a story about showing up a party where a man answered the door dressed in lingerie with his genitals exposed. He then goes on to say that it was an orgy and that he talked to a woman who was having sex with a man who was behind her.
  • We see a woman wearing narrow, thong underwear (from the front) and see just the bottoms of her breasts as her shirt has been pulled up.
  • We see several views of a bare-breasted woman as she dances.
  • We see a near closeup of woman's bare butt as she teasingly starts to remove her thong and then finally does.
  • We see part of Billy's bare butt as he squats down to remove some hidden drug paraphernalia from his rectum (the latter is not actually seen).
  • Nearly everyone smokes throughout the movie.
  • Raymond domineers Valerie and both mentally and physically abuses her. In one scene he belittles her in public for wanting to have a night out on the town (playing billiards), and in another he severely beats her to within an inch of her life, causing her to miscarry. There are later scenes where he arrives at Janet's flat and tries to get in, banging things around and cursing up a storm.
  • The above problems are absorbed by their five-year-old daughter who often hears or sees the abuse. In one scene, she hears her drunken father beating on an outside door, while her mother and grandmother look scared, with the latter holding a knife ready for action.
  • Janet must deal not only with her daughter's abusive situation, but also with her son who is a drug addict and constantly comes to her for more money to buy more drugs.
  • Raymond talks about his father being on his deathbed and asking his father why he never loved him.
  • Spousal abuse and how it's often "passed down" through the generations (here, Valerie and Raymond's young daughter "witnesses" the abuse), and how many people stay in those relationships because their "partner" claims to still love them.
  • Drugs and drug addicts.
  • Raymond suddenly punches a man who comes out onto a sidewalk.
  • Raymond punches Billy and then bites him hard on the nose, creating a deep, bloody gash as Billy screams in pain.
  • Billy and his tattooed friend repeatedly punch another man and end up smashing a laundromat's large storefront window.
  • Mad that she wanted a night on the town, Raymond punches Valerie, knocking her to the floor. He then kicks and repeatedly stomps down on her face (occurring just off camera), severely injuring her (she later miscarries).
  • Raymond kicks and bangs at Janet's door and when she won't let him in, he picks up a large object and throws it through her window, shattering the glass. He also threatens to kill Valerie.
  • Raymond pushes Janet aside to get to Valerie, but a male friend steps in and punches Raymond, dropping him to the street. There, he kicks Raymond several times.
  • Raymond, who's drunk, repeatedly punches himself in the face. He then proceeds to smash and trash their place, throwing furniture and breaking many items. We later see their flat and it looks as if a tornado had ripped through it.
  • A man brandishing a knife chases Billy and his friend into a laundromat and threatens to kill them.

  • Reviewed February 23, 1998

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