Nil By Mouth

  • 1997
  • Movie
  • R
  • Drama

It's about as subtle as a steel-toed boot to the groin, but actor Gary Oldman's gut-wrenching directing debut aches with grim honesty. Against the dreary backdrop of Southeast London's concrete housing estates, the lives of three underclass Brits come crashing down: Ray (Ray Winstone) is a sadistic loudmouth given to fits of coke-fueled paranoia and drunken...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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It's about as subtle as a steel-toed boot to the groin, but actor Gary Oldman's gut-wrenching directing debut aches with grim honesty. Against the dreary backdrop of Southeast London's concrete housing estates, the lives of three underclass Brits come crashing

down: Ray (Ray Winstone) is a sadistic loudmouth given to fits of coke-fueled paranoia and drunken rages; Valerie (Kathy Burke) is his pregnant, long-suffering wife and punching bag; and Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) is her desperate younger brother, trapped in a dead-end job and pricey heroin

addiction. There's no narrative to speak of: Oldman's conversational, improvisatory script follows his characters as they drink, punch and generally piss away their wretched lives in crowded council flats, overlit pubs and tawdry Piccadilly strip joints. It's a punishing experience, made nearly

unbearable by some truly outstanding acting: Winstone peels back several layers of emotion to reveal the depths of Ray's self-hatred, and there's a lifetime of suffering in the rings under Burke's eyes. Oldman, who grew up in a similar neighborhood, based much of the film on childhood memories;

it may strike some as excessively brutal, but not a single note rings false. In a rare moment of quiet introspection, Ray recalls his father's hospital stay and the "Nil by mouth" sign that hung over his bed, a reminder not to feed the patient orally. It's a fitting label, Ray feels, for a man

who could never express love for his son. Anyone looking for profound reasons behind Ray's revolting violence may find this explanation a bit pat, but the sad truth is often all too simple. That Oldman dedicates his film to his own father lends this harrowing work a cathartic sense of purpose.

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  • Released: 1997
  • Rating: R
  • Review: It's about as subtle as a steel-toed boot to the groin, but actor Gary Oldman's gut-wrenching directing debut aches with grim honesty. Against the dreary backdrop of Southeast London's concrete housing estates, the lives of three underclass Brits come cras… (more)

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