The family of Raymond, his wife Val and her brother Billy live in working-class London district. Also in their family is Val and Billy's mother Janet and grandmother Kath. Billy is a drug addict and Raymond kicks him out of the house, making him live on his own. Raymond is generally a rough and even violent person, and that leads to problems in the life of the family.
by Dane Youssef
"NIL BY MOUTH" is the very first film written and directed by the great Gary Oldman, a seasoned veteran actor who has still yet to give a bad performance. Oldman grew up in the poorest ghetto of South London, where this film takes place.
And while this movie has been rumored and believed to be a semi-autobiography of Oldman's childhood and family (who wouldn't watch this movie and believe so?), Oldman himself has said that this is not him or his family.
Hey, I believe him. Although he grew up in this environment, he was not directly in the line of fire, if you follow me.
The film sets itâ€™s sights on a South London family that defines the term â€œdomestic unrest.â€ A woman, her husband, daughter, brother, their mother and grandmother. As well as the people outside their family who they are connected to.
"Nil By Mouth" represents many of the other families in South London, not Oldman's. The colorful cockney ways of the Great Britain. But more than anything, itâ€™s problem of casual brutal urban violence.
We've seen many abusive types in movies--usually one-dimensional and sanitized. But "Nil By Mouth" refuses to white-wash. The fact that this is not a big-budget Hollywood star-vehicle allows this to be a real film-going experience.
This movie wishes to illuminate. Not entertain or delude. This is "slice-of-life," not escapist fantasy. I've told members of my family about it and they've given very mixed reactions. My father and sister disliked the dime-store production values and no-name actors. They asked me why I would rent such a bitter and hateful film. My mother says she has spent her life shunning this type of humanity and burying her head in the sand, living as if it does not really exist. "The Way Of The Ostrich."
This is one of those frightening on-screen performances in recent memory. Ray Winstone deserves high praise and immortalization for his acting here in the role of Ray. He seems to be one of those unsavory, brutal characters in movies that stay with us. Like Hannibal Lecter in "Silence Of The Lambs," Like Frank Booth in "Blue Velvet," Like Norman Bates in "Psycho," this performance haunts us like a ghost. The scorned ghost of a murderer...
There is a cringing moment in which Ray answers his wife's question as to why: "I do it because I love you." We cringe because his answer feels more familiar and common than it should.
Ray is not merely an abusive drunk; he is a horrible bastard, always prone to violent outbursts. When his wife hangs out with a casual male acquaintance, he suspects that she may be having an affair and damn near kills her.
Ray Winstone delivers a powerhouse performance in the role of Ray, a working-class man who loves his family, especially his daughter. But this man has demons. Demons that are so numerous and deep, they cannot be repressed. He can be a likeable, laid-back guy, like everyone else.
But we see that without serious provocation, he instantly becomes raving and homicidal. A side that most movies (and people) tend to shy away from. He will make your blood run cold and near the end, make you cry.
Kathy Burke, best known for her role on â€œAbsolutely Fabulousâ€ takes an enthralling dramatic turns as Valerie, Rayâ€™s wife whoâ€™s sole purpose seems to be to keep the family strung together while putting up with her husbandâ€™s monstrous outbursts, almost sadomasochistic ally. This is an unforgettable performance.
Whenever thereâ€™s someone like Ray, there's almost always someone like Mark. Mark is sort of a sidekick or cheerleader for Ray and his violently domestic antics. He seems to be something of a drama queen, hitching his trailer up to the pain in Ray's life. It perhaps gives him an excuse to explode and go ape-s**t the way he does. It's mentioned at one point that Mark himself was worked over by Ray's father---maybe this explains the tie that bond these two.
Jamie Forman is effective as Ray's little right-hand man. Apparently, Forman himself is the son of a real-life legendary London gangster who caused mayhem in the '60's.
There are scenes where he shows the true symptoms of a violent criminal. I wonder... is the caustic streak of the father burning through the son? Jamie, unlike his old man has apparently chosen a more legal profession. If so, kudos for him.
Is he just a great actor? Jamie may actually have some demons himself that he's trying to release.
And while Ray may be the black sheep of this family, all that really means is he's the blackest of the black. No one here walks on water. Valerie smokes and drinks despite knowing full-well she's pregnant. No one around her really speaks up in protest about her indirect poisoning of her child.
Valerie's little brother, Billy is a severe heroin addict. Despite the fact that he's occasionally allowed to sleep over at Ray and Valerie's, Ray even feeds him and gives him a banknote here and there, Billy steals a score of dope from their flat.
You can only imagine how Ray takes to this. Billy is scorned, but although he is cast out, he still stays with his side of the family and even retaliates against Ray, stealing an irreplaceable family heirloom.
After this, Billy is not really in trouble. He is all but dead.
Billy is a severe junkie and spends a lot of time with his friends. And since Billy is a junkie, there's only one kind of clique of friends he can afford: more junkies.
One of his pals, Danny is one of the movie's strangest characters. Danny is literally covered from head-to-toe with tattoos and body-piercing. He defines the term "body art." His whole body is like a big collage explosion.
But he's not the one-dimensional freak/weirdo/thug we'd expect just by getting a quick glance at him. He shows compassion and even sweetness at time like all the other characters, even Ray.
Nearly everyone drinks and smokes. Nearly everyone says "f**k" and "c**t" on a far more-than-regular basis. And their endless stream of profanity and brutal violent mistreatment of one another is like a sad testimony to how tragically pathetic they are.
You can almost hear the violins playing on the soundtrack to each of their lives. They are the victims of their life, their family, their environment, each other and themselves.
Oldman films using the now-traditional and all-too-common (but at the time, novel) hand-held camera technique and 16mm film, thus giving "Nil By Mouth" not the look of a polished, slick and lavish film, but raw, unkempt footage of very real life.
The movie looks like a true documentary, the herky-jerky camerawork makes it look as if we're seeing everything from our own P.O.V. As if we're "there, in the heat of the moment."
And we can't help but think about the little five-year old daughter and the unborn second child of Ray and Val, how their parents impact will undoubtedly shape them. It is an endless, vicious cycle of evil that shows no signs of breaking. And it is running rampantly throughout the world.
This is just one of those movies thatâ€¦ after itâ€™s over, you want to do somethingâ€¦ something to make things better.
LITTLE TRIVIAL NOTES ON "NIL BY MOUTH":
Unless you're somewhere in the European climate or at least Australian, you'd best hit "closed captioning" or "subtitles" if you want to understand so much as a damn line of dialouge. The thick cockney accents are almost indecipherable. They're so thick, you could choke on them. For me, it was almost like hearing morse code. The characters might as well have been speaking Chinese.
The title comes stems from a medical instruction in the hospital not to give a patient food or drink as they're about to go into surgery. The connection in that this movie makes with that title is poetically heart-breaking, like the rest of the film.
----With Open Arms and An Open Mouth, Dane Youssef