Having spent the majority of his life as Hollywood's serial renta-baddie, Gary Oldman has taken the timely decision to step behind the camera to try out the director's chair for size. It's a snug fit, and for his first project he's chosen a distinctly personal, gritty piece. This film shows a far greater depth to Oldman's talent, and proves that he's a powerful presence, whichever side of the camera he chooses to stand on.
Nil By Mouth is a searingly forceful drama that's almost as fascinating as it is disturbing, as over two fuck-shit-bastard hours (there's a ton of swearing) you watch the agonising breakdown of an extended working-class family. Joyous, flowery themes such as alcoholism, drug abuse, petty crime and domestic violence are all dealt with in a painfully graphic and realistic manner.
These are topics that have become all too familiar on our movie and TV screens in recent years, but never before have they been dealt with so vividly. Oldman's close-up and personal style of direction (aided and abetted by the stark realism of Brad Fuller's camerawork) catapults you right into the very heart of the nauseating subject matter.
But while the camera expertly leads you into the unfolding drama of the story, the stunning performances from the outstanding cast make it hard to believe that what you're watching isn't a real-life, fly-on-the-wall documentary.
In his portrayal of the coke-snorting, domineering husband, Ray Winstone (Scum, Ladybird Ladybird, and on cracking form in this month's Face), is at his lethal best. He may have tackled the vicious bitch-slapping heavy before, but never to such terrifying effect, so uncomfortably powerful is his performance. Likewise, in the part that deservedly won her the Best Actress gong at Cannes, Kathy Burke is a revelation as the downtrodden wife who finds the courage to stand up for herself and her family (banishing all thoughts of the comic Waynetta she plays in Harry Enfield's TV show).
There are other strong turns on show too, but ultimately, Nil By Mouth should be viewed as an ensemble piece in which every cast member is allowed to shine. It's worth remembering, though, that while the film is undeniably powerful, it's hardly what you'd call a fun night out.
Grounded somewhere between Leigh and Loach, Gary Oldman's directorial debut is more of an essay on life than cinema entertainment. Truly powerful performances combine with a raw, docudrama look to yield a brutal and unnerving portrayal of life in the 1990s. It'll wear you down with its high expletive count, and the violence will leave you reeling, but it's a hard-hitting, praise-worthy effort that's deserving of attention.
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