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The warzone

Threat advisory: Severe - Severe risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

The Devon countryside, where his family has just moved, is a lonely place for troubled 15-year-old Tom (Freddie Cunliffe). Bored, depressed and missing his friends in London, he kills time during the Easter break with his 17-year-old sister Jessie (Lara Belmont), while his father (Ray Winstone) reorganises his business from the countryside and his mother (Tilda Swinton) awaits the birth of a third child.

When she goes into labour, the family take off for the hospital but on the way the car crashes and the baby is born in the dark country road. Despite the trauma of the arrival, the family are brought together by the happy event and things return to normal. But one evening, as Tom returns home from a shopping trip with his mother, he sees something that suggests a terrifying secret that binds his father and Jessie.

Also starring Annabelle Apsion as the nurse, Kate Ashfield as Lucy, Colin J Farrell as Nick, Aisling O'Sullivan as Carol, Megan Thorp as Alice and Kim Wall as the barman. Screenplay by Alexander Stuart, directed by Tim Roth.

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Darkness in Devon.

Like a lot of good actors turned directors, Tim has chosen a script which really gets into the nitty gritty of life. The characters are down to earth, flawed and vulnerable. The plot is interesting, inventive and intense. The film is a work of art. (you might like to compare The warzone with Gary Oldman's Nil by mouth, especially since it also deals with family violence and casts Ray as an abusive father!)

The story, of course, is about the fragility of the traditional family unit and how easy it is to destroy it from within (perhaps that's why right wing moralists are so scared of anyone who doesn't follow their lead). How easy it is for men to do what is wrong and to convince themselves that it must be done. How easily they coerce their victims to silence and self loathing.

On to the review. This whole film is wonderfully understated. the people are ordinary people living ordinary lives; they wear ordinary clothes and have bad skin. They go shopping for groceries. Yet underneath this banality there lurks a demon. Ray brings this monster out of the darkness in doses so small that at first you might balk at accepting it but in the end you do. Little by little the moral high ground is eroded from under your feet. You are sucked into the depravity that lurks in human souls and there is no escape. Just like Jesse.

Lara's character is an intelligent, alert, outgoing girl who also happens to be the victim of sexual abuse. Her only defence has been denial and despair, every happy moment is underlaid by slithering darkness. Lara goes places that most actors shudder to think about and then returns so that you must witness every horror that Jesse has been through. It is an astoundingly rich performance. Tilda, on the other hand, has little more to do than react to her circumstances but this she does very well.

But the story rides entirely on the slim shoulders of Freddie's adolescent alter ego. No matter what the rest of the cast may do, it is he who carries the burden for selling the story. Not only did I buy that story, I put in an advance order for the t-shirt. It is not often that a character can appear to be do nothing yet rivet your eyes to the screen. Tom is so deep ("Still waters...") that a blink of the eyes, or even an absence of a blink, has significance. Freddie runs the gamut from total passivity to total activity without any loss of truth. Every moment he is on the screen he draws your eye.

Tim has created a world that is both beautiful and horrendous. The cinematography is at times overwhelmingly beautiful. The situation is unabatedly horrendous. It will take over your life for one and a half hours and transform it into something completely different. This directorial debut is not to be missed.

Security censorship classification

R 18+ (Adult themes)

Surveillance time

99 minutes (1:39 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 1 June 2000

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