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The Independent Critic

Ray Winstone, Tilda Swinton, Lara Belmont, Colin Farrell
Tim Roth
Alexander Stuart
Rated R
98 Mins.
Lot 47
 "The War Zone" Review 
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I speak often of "trigger films" on here when it comes to those who experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whether it comes from experiences on 9/11, war experiences or childhood experiences, it has been my experience that a powerful cinematic presentation can often provide one of the most powerful triggers of all in re-living the trauma of the past.

As a sexual abuse survivor, there is, quite simply, no film that has impacted me with the intensity, emotion and wholeness as Tim Roth's "The War Zone," a 1999 film that centers around an alienated teenager whose family moves out of London into the country. The teenager, masterfully portrayed by Freddie Cunliffe, must come to grips with a dark family secret between his father and sister. Watching Cunliffe attempt to, at first remain silent regarding this secret THEN simply attempt to control his emotions is one of the most emotionally harrowing experiences I've had while watching a film. While watching this film, I found MYSELF wanting to explode and scream and condemn those in my past. Under no circumstances is this a film that a sexual abuse survivor should watch alone. Period.

Of course, "The War Zone" of the title is the home, or even more specifically the family. This film is hauntingly realistic in its creation of a family built upon lies and betrayal and mistrust. Wisely, Roth chose not to censor the truth and instead presents the truth with a straightforward approach that is emotionally and physically exhausting.

The film's father is portrayed by the incredible Ray Winstone, whose performance here is one of frightening simplicity. Winstone's father is not a monster, but instead simply a father living in his own war zone who has betrayed all around him. It is a precise, understated performance that lays to rest all the myths and stereotypes about those who abuse sexually.

As Mum, Tilda Swinton gives one of her many wondrous performances in a performance that is horridly sad and dark. Likewise, Lara Belmont shines as a young teen girl who is resigned to her truth and lives life more as the shadow of her true self. In a supporting role, Colin Farrell continues his admirable dedication to independent film and brings greath depth to what could have been an insignificant role.

Roth directs much in the same way I direct theatre. It's a rather "no holds barred" approach that is both exhausting and exhilarating. The cinematography for "The War Zone" is stellar with a sort of gray tone seeming to appear over much of the film giving this overwhelming sense of darkness even in moments of great light. It is as if Roth is reminding us that the truth of this family cannot be glossed over. In fact, the cinematography of this film reminds me of what I found missing from "Blue Car," another film centering on sexual abuse that I greatly admire. "Blue Car" constantly felt like it was trying to temper the intensity of the subject by creating a lighter, brighter atmosphere. In other words, the production design never felt like it truly fit the subject. It's not that I want an absence of hope...on the contrary, though, the hope must come from within the characters and not in the environment. For sexual abuse survivors, this is a key truth...even if they cannot change the truth of their lives they can change what is within them. Tim Roth beautifully portrays this by creating an environment of shaded colors and great intensity while allowing the characters to live out their own journey. It is a magnificent choice even as the young teenage male in question makes very challenging choices.

"The War Zone" is, in my opinion, the best film ever created on the subject of sexual abuse/family violence. It is a chillingly painful film to watch, relentless in its truth and vivid in its vision. With painstaking detail, Roth creates a family that perfectly details the dynamics and effects of family violence as the greatest tragedy of all.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic