Gary Oldman steps behind the camera—and into the muck

Gary Oldman steps behind the camera—and into the muck

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Scarlett Johansson vehicle Lucy is the latest action-packed import from EuropaCorp. For the next five days, we highlight some of the French studio’s finest offerings—including a few without gunfights and car chases.

Nil By Mouth (1997)

Masculinity is depicted in all its uncontrollably violent ugliness in Nil By Mouth, Gary Oldman’s harrowing directorial debut about a blue-collar London family torn apart by drugs and brutality. Working from his own screenplay—which, chillingly, concludes with an “In Memory Of My Father” coda—Oldman fixes his gaze on Raymond (Ray Winstone), a ne’er-do-well thug who spends his days and nights chugging alcohol, doing dope, and punching out anyone who happens to incite his ire (or simply get in his way). The most common target of his cruelty is his pregnant wife Val (Kathy Burke), with whom he already has a young child, though just as apt to set Ray off is his young brother-in-law, Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles), a junkie whose unending search for a heroin fix gets him into incessant trouble with the law, other criminals, and his long-suffering mom, Janet (Laila Morse).

Abuse is the norm in this most dysfunctional of clans, and the miserableness is so pungent, viewers can almost taste the liquor and cigarette smoke fueling these lost souls. Miring himself in the muck, Oldman employs claustrophobic handheld camerawork to give the impression that his characters are animals trapped in cages of their own making. His script paints Raymond as the byproduct of an unending cycle of drunken depravity and viciousness, while ultimately managing the not-inconsiderable feat of ending on a modestly hopeful note about the forgiving nature of love and the possibility for true change. Upbeat coda aside, what lingers here are the scenes of raw monstrousness, led by a superb cast—Winstone and Burke, in particular, are magnetic—and culminating with a marital attack that’s downright frightening in its ferocity.

Availability: Nil By Mouth is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix. It is also streaming in its entirety on YouTube.


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