Nil by Mouth


          Nil by Mouth is the British term for no solid food, but this remarkable
  new film provides plenty of food for thought. Gary Oldman is an actor of
  astonishing range and versatility, one who can be subtle over- the-top as
  the role requires. His feature writing and directing debut combines the best
  of these qualities and the result is a stunning, marvelously acted film.

          Like many first time filmmakers, Oldman hewed to the "write what
  you know" school and crafted
Nil by Mouth, a semi-autobiographical tale of
  a working-class South London family trapped in a cycle of addictions and
  violence. The film is dedicated to Oldman's late father and the film is
  something of a family affair. His mother sings on the soundtrack and one
  of his older sisters (Maureen, using the pseudonym Laila Morse, an anagram
  of the Italian "mi sorella," or "my sister") plays a pivotal role.

          At first, audiences may think they've wandered into a foreign film
  without subtitles. The actors speak in thick colloquial accents, but soon
  the ear becomes attuned. The scatological but amusing dialogue begins
  to become familiar. Certain four-letter words take on new meanings as
  they are invoked by both men and women, young and old. The audience is
  introduced to the family in question as they share a night out. Ray (the
  brilliant Ray Winstone) is a large man with large appetites for drink and
  drugs. He is married to the pregnant Valerie (Kathy Burke, perhaps best
  known stateside as Magda, the magazine editor, in
Absolutely Fabulous).
  It is Val's family that makes up the rest of this family: her addict brother
  Charlie Creed-Miles, who calls to mind the Oldman of
Sid and Nancy) and
  her mother (Morse). Ray is prone to violence and he turns it on Valerie
  and her family members at a moment's notice. No one, not even her elderly
  grandmother, is exempt.

          The film succeeds on nearly every level. Oldman uses the camera
  in a fluid, near documentary style (we are literally in the faces of these
  characters). Except for one sequence of a drunken breakdown by Ray
  which goes on a little too long, this is an amazing and moving film.
  The actors are all memorable, with particular kudos to Winstone, Laila
  Morse (who has never acted before) and especially Burke. Noted in England
  primarily for her comic performances, she proves her dramatic mettle and
  was the surprise winner of the Best Actress award at the 1997 Cannes
  Film Festival. Along with Oldman's talents as a director, Burke demonstrates
  the greatest versatility. Nil by Mouth is quite terrific.


                          Rating:                A-
                          MPAA Rating:       R for graphic drug use, non-stop strong
                                                       language, brutal domestic violence
                                                       and some nudity
                          Running time:      128 mins.
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.