|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.
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.