Gary Oldman's hammy turns in such recent big-budget action films as The Fifth Element and Air Force One suggest that the once-edgy actor has grown tired of his star status. His characters have been so over-the-top that Oldman may have decided not to waste real emotion when he's acting in drivel. Adding some credence to this theory is Oldman's directorial debut Nil By Mouth, an intense, often unsettling, semi-autobiographical portrait of the working-class segment of English society in which Oldman grew up. The film, which he also wrote, is so brutally realistic that at times it exudes the verisimilitude of a documentary: Much of the footage is grainy and rough, and the actors are so natural that few scenes come across as scripted or rehearsed. Nil By Mouth benefits from this warts-and-all approach to such familiar issues as drug use and wife-beating; this is no glossy, Trainspotting-style take on tough times and substance abuse. Ray Winstone plays a hard-living pub-crawler whose violent drinking binges threaten his relationship with put-upon wife Kathy Burke. Meanwhile, Burke's heroin-addict brother Charlie Creed-Miles leaches money from her mother to score some gear. Though Nil By Mouth doesn't tackle a whole lot of new territory, Oldman never lets the movie sink into easy domestic melodrama. And while Oldman chose not to appear in his first film (which he dedicates to his father), his passion is clearly exhibited. Shot through a bleary haze of cigarette smoke, alcohol, and hard drugs, Nil By Mouth is the cinematic equivalent of Oldman's old acting style, a return to form by absentia.