Cert: 18 Runtime: 128 mins Director: Gary Oldman Cast: Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles and Laila Morse
I’ll fight for you… I’ll fight forever… forever… I love you…
He is not only a great actor, Gary Oldman is a brilliant writer/film-maker. Nil By Mouth is the only film he has made to date, but wow this film just packs a punch. This film is loosely based on Oldman’s life in south London as a child. He even filmed in the area where he grew up in the film. It was very successful critically it was featured at Cannes, where Kathy Burke won best actress an it won two BAFTAS. For any true lover of cinema Nil By Mouth is a piece that you must see. So what is it about? The family of Raymond (Ray Winstone), his wife Val (Kathy Burke) and her brother Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) live in working-class London district. Also in their family is Val and Billy’s mother Janet (Laila Morse) and grandmother Kath (Edna Dore). Billy is a drug addict and Raymond kicks him out of the house, making him live on his own. Raymond is generally a rough and even violent person, and that leads to problems in the life of the family.There is no end to the impact of the likes of a film like Nil By Mouth. There is no end to the intensity of it. It isn’t just a film about a bunch of people screaming basic, hateful, tremendously profane things at each other. It is those people screaming those things. And it is screaming them out on to grainy, restless cinematography, the camera always seeming as if it’s an engine revving up for a race, a story as simple as one can possibly be, completely uninhibited by related strands or details, and characters as real and as much of an effort to face as the kitchen sink after washing dishes, just the sort of lower-class, lesser endowed people whose neighborhoods we lock our doors driving through. The film is a cacophony of rage, rush, and livewire emotions. It’s like being confronted face to face with a barrel- chested, rock-headed angry barfly. The cast is wonderful, but for the most part, we don’t think about that. There is something about Gary Oldman’s direction, as an actor himself whose work has a tendency to be of an impulse-heavy, self-projected nature, that forcefully guides these actors to be what they are, be in the moment, and just be.
Their characters build not be inhabiting another personality but by intensifying their own. Actors like Oldman, take Marlon Brando for example, have always puzzled me with the impassioned denial that becoming another character is real acting. Now, because of Oldman’s loving control over his very personal, white hot film, I believe I understand what is meant by that primal and cardinal philosophy, and it really has a profound ring to it. The outstanding voice in the film’s cast, however is none other than Ray Winstone. He is an absolute force to be reckoned with in every way imaginable here. I have always enjoyed him as an actor, whose performances, dominant or submissive, always have us saying, “Yes sir.” As such an obviously powerful actor, he has the sensitivity to buckle under the weaker mortal side to his characters, as is the case in Sexy Beast and even in The Departed, and is as resonant as ever in Nil By Mouth. What a tough, intimidating man he is, what a shockingly violent man he is, and what a toll he must pay. There is a scene in this film featuring only him that stands firmly and equally beside Robert De Niro’s scene in the jail cell in Raging Bull. The mindset behind a film like Nil By Mouth is a matter of telling the story that’s right in front of your face. What is it about? How does one synopsize a free-roaming, acidy, jostling narrative like Oldman’s? Look up from your computer, or lose yourself in the hypnotic state you must be in as you read this and let the screen blur, and take a subjective look at your life, the people in it, the anger you feel, what you feel it towards, whether that’s something you can figure out or not, and think of it if you wrote a script about it, dramatizing it, building an arch of screen violence and cinematic flare the size of your most tangible furious passion for it. Then you’ve got what it takes to make a film like Nil By Mouth. That’s what Gary Oldman did, and that is wonderful. That is what so many films should be made of and aren’t. Nil By Mouth will always be held in a special group of films in my eyes, which includes Mean Streets, Faces, and Buffalo ’66 as the starting few. It was imagined, written and directed with such a personal perspective, such an attendance of the emotional face that is the filmmaker identifying itself which flushes the entire film with a style and feel that is entirely its own.