The War Zone

on December 10, 1999 by Ray Greene
   Actor Tim Roth's earnest, uncompromising directing debut stunned Sundance audiences with its unstinting and graphic depiction of incest in a working-class British home. A startlingly environmental film with a keen and vernacular sense of time and place, "The War Zone" uses the slow, humdrum rhythms of everyday life to deflect attention until an all-too-common off-camera horror gradually intrudes into the characters' lives.
   Roth claims his film, which reveals itself through the eyes of a young boy, was inspired by such dark coming-of-age classics as Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" and Lasse Halstrom's "My Life as a Dog." Those might seem like grandiose standards of comparison if Roth didn't come so close to living up to them.
   Perfectly modulated performances from veterans Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton and from newcomers Lara Belmont and Freddie Cunliffe, coupled with Roth's unflinching commitment to unvarnished realism, make "The War Zone" a unique contemporary example of what used to be called "the concerned cinema." Though marred somewhat by slightly pretentious cinematography and a melodramatic "twist" ending that too definitively punishes the guilty, "The War Zone" is a chillingly executed and undeniably powerful social document, and a sincere and powerful cry from an emerging filmmaker's heart. Starring Ray Winstone, Lara Belmont and Freddie Cunliffe. Directed by Tim Roth. Written by Alexander Stuart. Produced by Sarah Radclyffe and Dixie Linder. Drama. No distributor set. Not yet rated. Running time: 98 min
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