Tag Archives: addiction

Filth – Review

8 Aug

One of my favorite movies of all time is Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting, which was based on a novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh. Welsh is an author who expertly weaves pitch dark comedy with serious drama that has made a major impact on my movie watching life. In 2013, another of his novels was adapted into a film, this time starring James McAvoy and the title being Filth. I recently had the joy of watching this movie and I have to say that it’s definitely an Irvine Welsh story and it’s also a really excellent character study. It is hard not to compare it to the two Trainspotting movies, which are superior, but even though it doesn’t reach the heights of those two movies, it’s a film that’s grown on me more and more since I saw it.

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is truly one of a kind. As a highly respected detective for the Edinburgh police force (in his own mind anyway), Robertson feels sure that he’s a shoe in for the big promotion to Detective Inspector. What he fails to realize however is that his massive addiction to cocaine and alcohol, combined with his highly abusive sexual behavior and bipolar disorder may really put him at odds with other people in his task force. This shouldn’t pose much of a threat however, since Robertson is a master manipulator and likes to take part in what he calls “the games,” which is really just another form of psychological abuse where he uses other people’s insecurities and weaknesses to his advantage. After a foreign exchange student is brutally murdered, Robertson is put on the case and while investigating the death is faced with some insecurities and problems of his own which sends him deeper and deeper into a psychological and drug fueled meltdown that puts himself and everyone else around him at risk.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. There are plenty of great actors in this movie that perform very well, but the movie belongs to James McAvoy and this is clear proof that he’s one of the most charismatic and versatile actors working today. Bruce Robertson is not an easy character to tackle for so many reasons. Like Mark Renton in Trainspotting, Robertson is troubled but unlike Renton there’s no reason to put any faith in Robertson’s character. Bruce is a drug addict, thief, Machiavellian manipulator, and endorses violence on a sociopathic level. He is a villain of villains, but he’s also the star of our movie and he’s also suffering from a severe case of bipolar disorder. This is quite a handful for McAvoy. He has to portray and evil man while at the same time portraying the same man that longs for the quiet life he once had where he was surrounded by people he loved. Along with his more recent role in Split, his performance in Filth ranks as one of his best.

While Welsh has stated that Filth serves best as a commentary on the corruption of Scottish institutions, I feel like it’s best experienced as a character study. Sure, there are plenty of strong opinions about Scotland that come through in the screenplay which I’m sure are in the novel, but I have to admit that I’m pretty unfamiliar with it all. I just found a lot of joy watching Bruce Robertson completely lose his grasp on reality. This didn’t just stem from him being a monster of a character, but just because of McAvoy’s performance and also from a strong storytelling standpoint. The story of Filth is very intriguing and it’s hard to look away from it even at its most depraved, and depraved it gets. I’ll get more to the positives of that notion in a moment, but I do want to touch on the negatives. Irvine Welsh isn’t one to shy away from crude humor, and that shows in Trainspotting to spectacularly memorable results. In Filth, it’s much more hit or miss. A lot of jokes fall completely flat or just don’t feel executed properly. This is a major hit since this movie is a dark comedy over everything else. At times it just felt a little too juvenile for what the story deserves. With source material like this, easy laughs are the least important ones, and this movie does go for plenty of easy laughs along the way.

While the film does lose its footing a little bit with some of the humor, I really have to commend Jon S. Baird for taking this shockingly ugly subject material and not backing down. Adapting this story into something marketable couldn’t have been easy, but he managed to do it. Not only is Filth not afraid to live up to its title and show some truly reprehensible behavior, it manages to do so using and abundance of style and flash that helps it fit right in with the two Trainspotting films. The different lenses used for different scenes mixed with some chaotic and rhythmic editing makes Filth an achievement in film making as a craft. When the story starts to slow down or wear a little thin at some parts, Baird keeps your attention with his film making techniques. This is the kind of movie that succeeds in making you feel a certain way using its style, and it’s also the kind of movie that may make you want to take a shower after viewing.

I had pretty high expectations going into Filth, and while some areas were clearly weaker than others, it was a memorable film that left me feeling gleefully disgusted. This is a double-barrel shot to the senses and it will leave you with lingering thoughts and feelings. McAvoy is excellent as Bruce Robertson and I’m very proud of writer/director Jon S. Baird for making the film that he envisioned. This isn’t always an easy film to stomach, but I definitely recommend Filth for anyone willing to run the gauntlet.

Final Grade: B+

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Drugstore Cowboy – Review

28 May

In 1990, a novel by James Fogle was released. The text told an autobiographical tale of drug addiction, crime, and the consequences that come with the decisions to engage in that type of lifestyle. Interestingly enough, a movie called Drugstore Cowboy came out in 1989 which is based off of the novel that came out in 1990. Well, that’s a weird circumstance, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that Fogle was still in prison in 1989 and wasn’t released until the following year. With Gus Van Sant in the director’s chair and source material such as this, this film was bound to become something special.

Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon) is living life to the fullest. He has a beautiful girlfriend named Dianne (Kelly Lynch), he has friends that are willing to follow him to the ends of the earth, and he spends his days free of any kind of employment to live his life as a free spirit. He’s also addicted to all sorts of drugs, and will go to any lengths for a fix. His main source of pharmaceutical income is to rob drugstores blind. His luck seems to be coming to an end when a particularly invasive run in with Detective Gentry (James Remar) forces him to leave town and find new means of getting his fix elsewhere. Unfortunately, Bob and his crew can’t seem to catch a break and it doesn’t take long for tragedy to hit the group harder than they ever expected. This forces Bob to really examine what he’s done with his life and wether he’s willing to give it all up to finally find some stability or stick with his usual ways and live a life where death is right around the corner and paranoia is his right hand man.

In 1996, Trainspotting was released and changed the way films about drugs could be made. In 2000, Requiem for a Dream was released and this film redefined these rules. Before all that, however, was Drugstore Cowboy. This was a modern look at drug addiction that helped pave the ways for these other classic films. By today’s standards, Drugstore Cowboy is pretty tame, but it stands tall in the world of film history. This was a movie that showed a realistic and disturbing side to drug addiction, while also being darkly funny in its dialogue and minor idiosyncrasies that are present in all humans, even if they are addicted to world altering substances. This is where this film shines. It shows characters with deep flaws, other than the obvious, while also showing their strengths. It’s clear that Van Sant didn’t want to take sides, but rather depict addiction in its true form when it comes to physiology and the law.

With its meandering plot points and unfocused direction, Van Sant successfully portrayed the lifestyle he was trying to depict. In any other movie, this would be a fault, but since we’re talking about addicts who will hit the open road whenever they want to and completely relocate their lives, it works well. Something that doesn’t work all too well for me is how Van Sant examines the consequences of their actions. There are a few excellent scenes where the characters get what’s coming to them, and those are some of the more satisfying scenes of Drugstore Cowboy, because it makes the choices the characters make have more weight. Then again, there’s something that happens in the middle of the movie that doesn’t end up being resolved by the end. It’s also a little hard to believe these characters can remain so calm and appear so cool under certain circumstances right after how they just got done saying how desperate they are to get high. Maybe Trainspotting just spoiled me.

The writing in this movie is definitely unique. For most of the movie, we have characters in situations that I could really see happening. Matt Dillon is excellent as Bob Hughes, the leader of this gang of miscreants. He plays well with Kelly Lynch, James LeGros, and Heather Graham. Graham and LeGros have a chemistry all their own, which also adds good moments of comedy and serious drama. It’s also a real treat to see William S. Burroughs as a drug pedaling priest. The dialogue they are given often works well, like when Bob is talking about his different superstitions. There are times that it feels a little bit too theatrical, which is something I’ve seen in Van Sant’s work before. For a movie that is trying very hard to be realistic, it kind of loses me when hear a line that sounds like it was written for a movie and not for a character I’m supposed to believe is real.

Drugstore Cowboy is definitely a movie in this subgenre of drug movies that holds a firm spot in film history. It was an honest look at the lifestyle of these wandering addicts that I haven’t seen depicted before this film. I will say that I would have liked it to go a little bit farther. That means the movie could have been a little longer or maybe if the boundaries were pushed a little bit more. Still, despite the lack of grit that I would have liked to have seen, it shows characters that I’ll have no problem remembering and scenarios that are completely unique to this movie. It’s not my favorite movie on the topic, but it’s still a very good film.

Final Grade: B+

T2 Trainspotting – Review

7 Apr

One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1996 Danny Boyle film Trainspotting, which is based on a 1993 novel of the same name by Scottish author Irvine Welsh. This film seems to have always been with me since it seems like a week can’t go by without me referencing it or just having it cross my mind when a certain song comes on. I just love this movie to death, and to me it’s a perfect film. For years, a sequel has been talked about and going through different phases of production, but here we are in 2017 and we finally have T2 Trainspotting. This is a time of sequels and reboots and remakes, so a lot of people may be turned off by this idea, but Welsh did write a sequel in 2002 called Porno. With Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and Irvine Welsh all back on board for this sequel, I was also on board and this film did not disappoint.

20 years after deceiving his friends and running off with a whole bag of money, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) finally returns to Scotland with the hopes of reuniting with friends and family. His friends all seem to be in different states of decay with Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) managing a run down bar and addicted to cocaine, Spud (Ewen Bremner) still a heroine addict who’s lost nearly everything, a Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in prison with a strong personal vendetta against Mark fueling his every action. Pretty soon, Mark and Simon get over their troubles with one another and turn, once again, to a life of crime with the plans of converting Simon’s bar into a brothel. They enlist the help of Spud and Simon’s girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) to help wth the transformation. Things start to get out of hand, however, when Begbie escapes from prison and starts gunning for Mark, while Simon and Spud do their best to cover for him. Amongst all of the crime and the business plans, this gang’s past is quickly catching up to them and there’s nothing they can do about it.

I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t nearly jump out of my seat when I saw each character return in their respective introductions. These are some of my favorite characters ever put to the screen, because no matter how troubled and deceptive they are, you can’t help but love them. It’s been 20 years since the original film came out, but the way these actors seamlessly return to their roles, it feels like the first film could have come out yesterday. The shenanigans they get into are very reminiscent of the first film without it ever feeling like Danny Boyle, John Hodge, and Irvine Welsh are just capitalizing on its success. This isn’t a film about nostalgia for the audience, but more so about the dangers of becoming to enraptured in your past that you’re unable to look forward, which is the case for most of the characters in this movie.

If  were asked to describe this movie in one word, I could easily give you the answer: seamless. This is a seamless transition into a sequel that feels so natural, it’s almost as if this were always meant to be. The end of the first film isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but it does leave the audience wondering if the certain betrayal that happens is enough to make them change their lives. This film answers that question with a resounding “no.” This is an excellent postscript to the questions that can arise at the end of the first film while offering a deeper understanding of these complicated characters as they enter middle aged life. While there is a sense of nostalgia and love of Trainspotting with small references to scenes from that movie, it comes with the danger that too much nostalgia will ruin your foresight, a theme that I just can’t get enough of.

While T2 Trainspotting is just the sequel I needed, it does come with a storytelling flaw that stops it from reaching the esteemed heights of its predecessor. I this movie, Mark and Simon are turning back to a life of crime in order to turn Simon’s bar into a brothel. Cool. I’m into that story. Meanwhile, Spud is dealing with his own problems, which get explored more when he’s brought into Mark and Simon’s plan. Also cool. What’s upsetting is that certain interesting plot points go nowhere after awhile in favor of something completely different to happen in the final act of the movie. Luckily, the plot points that are abandoned are not the most interesting parts of the movie, but it feels like a lot of time was wasted for such a big part of the story to just be completely abandoned like it never existed. It leaves the second act of the movie feeling disjointed and certain scenes feeling unnecessary. It’s kind of a weird decision and I’m not sure I fully understand why they took the movie in that direction.

T2 Trainspotting is exactly the sequel that the first film needed even if it doesn’t reach the level that its predecessor did. The bottom line is that I loved this movie. I really, really did. It’s like these actors never stopped playing these characters since they return with what seems like such ease. Danny Boyle and his crew also seem to not miss a beat with the kinetic editing and often outlandish style of the film. If certain plot points were cleaned up, I would have been very pleased, but the most interesting parts of the movie remain intact as the characters face elements of life that they just aren’t prepared for. I can’t wait to see this one again.

Final Grade: A-

Moonlight – Review

4 Jan

One of the most talked about movies of this year is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. It has taken me way too long to see this movie, but I’ve finally made my way to the theater to go see it, and I was completely blown away. I had such high hopes for this movie because the praise from both audiences and critics has been unanimous. Having the high hopes that I did can sometimes be dangerous because it’s rare that a movie so perfectly matches your expectations. I’m happy to say that Moonlight, with its solid performances, story, and cinematography, stands with some of the best movies of this year.

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The story of Moonlight is broken up into three separate acts. In the first act, we meet a young Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a shy boy who is constantly being chased and bullied by his classmates. He can’t even find help at home since his mom’s (Naomie Harris) problems with drug addiction and prostitution often forces him out of the house and back on the street. His only solace is in a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who let him stay over and give some of his first life lessons. In the second act, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is in high school and is still being harassed. He knows something is different about him and finds a new kind of comfort in a classmate named Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). This comfort is soon destroyed and Chiron, himself, becomes pushed too far. In the final act, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now going by Black, is an adult drug dealer living in Georgia. He gets a call from Kevin (André Holland) one night in Florida and the two meet up in the restaurant that Kevin works in. This meet up once again rekindles something in Chiron which forces him to come closer to his insecurities and his true self than he may ever have before.

Right from the very first shot of Moonlight I was hooked. The film opens with a fantastic long take that circles a group of characters having a mundane conversation that’s made interesting by this stylistic choice. The whole movie is a visual and auditory masterpiece that uses these techniques to help tell the story instead of completely washing the story out with style. Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton find very unique places to put the camera or move the camera to get an image that is evocative and sometimes unexpected. This is easily one of the best looking movies of the entire year. The sound also helps better the story and sometimes isolate you into the mind of Chiron. There are moments when people are yelling and screaming but there’s this strange silence that fills the screen that is far more dramatic than anything that’s being said. There’s a few instances where the sound becomes more of a staccato which creates the tension necessary for a scene. This combination of sight and sound really gives this movie a special artistic touch, and I couldn’t imagine the story being told by someone else.

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Like I said, the style of this movie doesn’t overshadow the story, and that’s mainly because the story is so well told and so beautifully realized. Without giving anything away, the story of this movie takes a very real and relevant situation someone can be going through and puts this situation in a really harsh and unforgiving environment where only a few people around you really understand and care about you and what you’re going through. This can often times be a tough movie to sit through because it can be very unforgiving with what happens to some of the characters. By the end, however, I felt like the characters have all changed, matured, and learned. The only way this movie could be told is in the three part structure that it’s set up as. If the film only focused on one of these time periods, then Chiron’s character wouldn’t learn and change like he does in the finished product. This is a very real and down to earth film that doesn’t pull any punches but still leaves the audience feeling satisfied.

Like so many great movies, none of this would have the impact that it does if the performances weren’t as strong as everything else. This is also one of the best acted films of the year, right along with Manchester by the Sea. Mahershala Ali gives his best performance in Moonlight, and I really want to see more of this actor in feature films and not just television. The real stand outs for me, however, are all three actors that play Chiron. Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders who play the adult and teenage Chiron, respectively, share very similar quirks and characterizations that really makes the audience feel like they’re watching the same person at different ages. Of course the different angsts and motivations of their ages come out as well. I especially want to talk about Alex Hibbert who plays the young Chiron. It’s rare that an actor of his age can make me believe so easily that I’m seeing a real person and not just a character onscreen, and he pulls it off with ease. It’s a great performance. The rest of the supporting cast featuring Naomie Harris, Janelle Monét, and André Holland are all perfectly casted and performed as well.

There’s been a lot of great and memorable movies to come out in 2016, and Moonlight is up there with the best of them. This is a very dramatic movie that never falls into the pit of melodrama while also exploring themes that may seem familiar, but never actually makes itself a cliché. It’s written and performed in such a way that feels very down to earth and organic. It’s also filmed in such a way that is very artistic and stylistic without ever going overboard. I highly recommend this movie for so many different reasons.

Final Grade: A+

La Vie en Rose – Review

6 Oct

If someone were to make a list of iconic singers from around the world, I can guarantee that Édith Piaf would be close to the top. Piaf’s unique voice and graceful stage presence made her an international success until her untimely death at the age of just 47. Even today, her music can be found in movies, television, and commercials which shows that even though she’s no longer with us, her musical legacy is still strong. Something that reinforced this was the 2007 film by Olivier Dahan, La Vie en Rose. This film tells the life story of Édith Piaf, which includes incredible joy and overwhelming tragedy. It’s definitely a story that had to be told.

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The film begins with a sick looking Édith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) taking the stage for a concert, and quickly fainting during a song in front of a large audience. The film then cuts back to 1918 when Piaf was just a young child who is left by her parents to live with her grandmother in a brothel in Normandy. As the years go on, Piaf makes a meager living singing on the street, but is soon found by Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu) and invited to sing at his club where she quickly becomes something of a local celebrity. As time goes on, her fame increases and travels around the world, including New York City, where tragedy hits hard when she loses the love of her life, Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), in a plane crash. Finally, back in France towards the end of her life, it’s clear that Piaf’s abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol have taken a huge toll on her health, and the devastating realization that soon she will no longer be able to sing anymore.

This is a hard movie to summarize because it tells so much of a person’s life. This is a pretty long movie, clocking in with a run time of almost two and a half hours, but even then I feel like there may have been more to be told. That works to the film’s credit since I was intrigued by the subject and the handling of Piaf by making the icon into exactly what she was: a human being. While I love the way Piaf is depicted in this movie, I wasn’t really a huge fan of how the story was told. The film starts towards the end and then jumps back to the beginning for a while, and naturally progresses from there. That’s all fine, but as the movie goes on it jumps back and forth and then introduces an even later timeline, and then starts jumping around even more rapidly. Towards the end of the movie, I jumped around so much that I was sometimes confused with where and when I was in the story. I understand that this was a way for the film makers to get in as much of the story as they could, and I’m ok with a cut up timeline, but this was just way overdone.

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It’s impossible to talk about La Vie en Rose and not talk about Marion Cotillard. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest screen performances of all time. When you’re watching the movie and getting more engaged in the story, you forget that you’re watching Cotillard playing Édith Piaf and are actually watching Piaf herself. I know that’s how I felt. It’s a complete transformation from one person into another, and it’s truly incredible. Not only does she nail Piaf’s voice (although the singing was dubbed), but also the way she stood, small mannerisms that she had, and even small changes to her face that made all the difference. With a movie like this where the character was a real person whose life was filled with such success and tragedy, it’s important to believe what’s happening. Cotillard’s performances made this a very easy film to believe and get lost in. She is a marvel to watch, and earned the Academy Award for her performance, which is one of the few times someone has won this award for an entire foreign language role.

La Vie en Rose also is just a beautiful looking movie, even in the beginning when a young Piaf is living a life on the streets in Belleville to the more upscale life that she led in New York. The set design is all fantastic and the costumes work great with the different decades that Piaf lived through. There’s just so much wonderful stuff to look at, and I have to give a lot of credit to Olivier Dahan and his direction for adding something more to the design. At first, I thought the directing was nothing special, but that’s not the case. It’s understated and controlled and never takes the style too far. One of my favorite scenes in the movie happens during a devastating moment in Piaf’s life, and instead of cutting, the scene follows Piaf through her entire apartment and catches the entire range of emotion in her performance and the atmosphere surrounding the incident.

La Vie en Rose is not without it’s faults, but it’s a movie that truly captures the tumultuous life of an icon of music. This is a frustrating movie to sit through, at times, because how the story keeps jumping from the past to the present to the future to the past then who knows where. If that was just toned down a bit, the movie would have been improved. Still, Cotillard’s performance, the production design, and Dahan’s skilled directing make this an above average biopic.

Final Grade: B+

I Saw the Light – Review

12 Apr

There are many great artists who die way before they’ve done everything they had the potential to do. This goes for musicians, film makers, actors, painters, and really anything you can think of. Hank Williams is one of those people that falls into this category devastatingly well. Much in the vein of what Walk the Line did with Johnny Cash, Marc Abraham’s I Saw the Light tells about the ups, downs, and inevitable end to Hank William’s career and personal life. It’s a very interesting movie about a very interesting person, but it unfortunately stumbles into pit falls that a lot of biopics do. It’s a bit too long, unfocused, and brushes over points of interest far too much to really make this a movie that comes close to reaching its full potential.

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The film begins in 1944 with Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) and Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen) getting married in a gas station in a small town in Alabama. What follows is the story of how Hank rose to fame and the toll it had on his life and on his family. He started out humble enough, playing small shows around town and hosting his own radio show where his band and his wife sang songs early in the morning. Eventually, Hank goes on to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and that’s where his career really took off. With a string of hit songs and a winning stage personality, it seemed America found itself a new voice. What people didn’t know was Hank’s troubling addiction to drugs and alcohol and the strained relationship with Audrey and his children that was caused by these addictions and his sharp rise to stardom.

People who make biopics are undoubtedly taking on a huge responsibility. First of all, their subject has to be done properly for their fans or followers or even the subjects themselves to fully respect what was created in their name. There have been some huge successes like Walk the LineSelma, and even Love and Mercy. Unfortunately for I Saw the Light, this Hank Williams biopic doesn’t stand nearly as tall as the movies I’ve mentioned. First off, I’m a little concerned on how balanced the movie is in terms of his successes and his failures. I’m no expert on Williams, but I felt the film focused mostly on his addiction to drugs and alcohol, and not so much on his time at the Grand Ole Opry or really exploring his music further. All in all, I Saw the Light was a pretty depressing movie for the most part of it.

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This isn’t to say that there isn’t some great drama and music in this movie, because there are scenes that work really well. One particular scene shows Hank Williams showing up to a concert completely out of his mind and making a complete fool of himself before he even plays a note of music. That was a really good scene that’s unfortunately cut a little too short. A lot of things are cut short in the movie, even when it comes to character development. There are a few friends of Hank that show up throughout the movie that we are supposed to care about, but nothing is ever done to make the characters appear real or change. Even though the movie is about Hank Williams doesn’t mean that they couldn’t explore the lives of the people in his band a little as well. On the flip side, the music that is in the movie all sounds very authentic and really puts you in the time period. Hiddleston and the rest all perform the songs very well and I found myself tapping my toes on more than one occasion.

Speaking of Tom Hiddleston, I’m not even sure he was in this movie. For all I know, I was watching the real Hank Williams, who rose from the grave just so he could star in his own biopic. Hiddleston can now be ranked with those few actors who have completely transformed themselves into a character to the point where you don’t even feel like you’re watching them and you can lose yourself in the story. His movements, voice, posture, and expressions all seem so meticulously planned to create the most authentic representation of Hank Williams that he could possibly conjure up. If anything, people should just see the movie for Hiddleston’s performance.

I Saw the Light has a lot of problems with how the story is told and what the story focuses on, but there are also plenty of good things in the movie. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic, the music is so much fun to listen to, and I really had no problem immersing myself in the time period. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I got the full story on the life and death of Hank Williams. This is a movie that could have been great, but instead it’s just pretty good. Is it worth seeing? Yeah, I think so, but don’t expect to be completely fulfilled by the end of it.

Nil by Mouth – Review

3 Mar

Everyone knows about Gary Oldman’s acting career. He’s been in so many movies as great as The Dark Knight Trilogy and as awful as the 2009 “horror” film The Unborn. He’s one of those actors that seems to turn up everywhere, but he always brings an air of seriousness to all of his roles. I’ve just recently learned about his work in directing after reading about his 1997 directorial debut Nil by Mouth. I didn’t really know what it was about, but being a fan of Oldman’s, I felt it was worth checking out. That being said, this is a surprisingly gritty, disturbing, and genuinely upsetting film.

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Set in the working class environment of South London, this film examines the life of a small, but poor family. Billy (Charles Creed-Miles) is a heroine addict that struggles with both his finances and his addiction, mostly using one to help the other. Billy’s sister is Val (Kathy Burke), a relatively unhappy woman who is married to Ray (Ray Winstone). Ray is a thief, an addict, and violent, many times taking out his rage on the pregnant Val. After a vicious night between the two, the family really seems that it is finally ready to break down and leave everyone on their own.

When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, Nil by Mouth was received with much critical acclaim and Kathy Burke winning for Best Actress. This is really no surprise to me since this movie tackles subject matter in an unflinchingly realistic way. As I was watching it, my mind kept going to Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, although the main protagonist in that movie is a kid and it was released two years later in 1999. It still deals with the same ideas as poverty and the breakdown of a family. There were many times in this movie that it got so intense and real that it stunned me.

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Like I said before, Kathy Burke won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this movie, but that isn’t where the excellent performances end. Everyone in this movie seems to be working their hardest to completely sell their roles to you. Burke has a lot of different levels she plays at and Ray Winstone matches her perfectly by showing an aggravating and complex character. He has become one of the most hated characters for me because Winstone makes him so real. Charles Creed-Miles also works well as the pathetic drug addicted thief who I really couldn’t help feeling sorry for.

To really make Nil by Mouth work, Oldman had to create a certain kind of uncomfortable atmosphere that isn’t really easy to do. Many of the scenes are shot in dark side streets of London, the kind of streets that you wouldn’t want to find yourself alone at night. When we’re not in some alley, we’re in cluttered, tiny apartments that seems to have a few too many people in it. That being said, certain scenes have to appear comfortable and livable since this is just the way of life for these people. It’s an odd combination where I would be disgusted one moment and then almost feel at home the next.

Nil by Mouth can definitely be classified as a film that isn’t easy to watch, nor is it particularly entertaining. It is, however, a film that seems to be a very deep and personal project of Gary Oldman’s, and that comes through in how realistic and honest everything is in the movie. This may be one of the realest movies I’ve seen and it certainly isn’t afraid to throw a rotten piece of life into your face. While it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s an intense experience nonetheless.