The War Zone (1999)

“What’s the matter?” Only a few minutes into this one a car transporting a pregnant mother to the hospital flips over. That sets the tone for a brooding, somber but fascinating glimpse into a family that appears outwardly happy but is hiding a dark secret. The family in question has just moved from bustling London to the bleak countryside of Devon near the raging sea. The cast is superb. Freddie Cunliffe plays an awkward, pimply 15-year-old named “Tom” who discovers that something very unnatural is going on between his father (Ray Winstone) and his 17-year-old sister “Jessie” (Lara Belmont). The cast includes Tilda Swinton, Colin Farrell, Aisling O’Sullivan and Kate Ashfield. Most of the action takes place in the dreary country house and in an abandoned bunker facing the sea. There’s a sense of total isolation and alienation in the surroundings that contribute to the overall mood of despair. Based on Alexander Stuart’s 1989 novel of the same name, The War Zone served as the directorial debut of Tim Roth and he directs with the same assurance you’ve seen him act in such classics as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Rob Roy. This film doesn’t pull any punches. It takes on a difficult subject with honesty and without sensationalism. This ain’t no “Jerry Springer Show,” folks. In a lot of ways, it’s reminiscent of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. The War Zone was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for “Best Foreign Film” but lost out to Dancer in the Dark (Denmark).

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