The War Zone
, 19 Aug 2005
Whatever you think about The War Zone one thing can not be denied: This is a truly shocking and disturbing film. Any film that takes incest as its subject is going to have a difficult time getting screened but few either tackle the subject as head on, or had as much trouble getting a wide release, as The War Zone. The first thing one must say about this film is that the performances are remarkable. Lara Belmont was 17 and had never acted before this film was shot. She really is thrown in at the deep end, Jessie's is the most important role in the film and a very complex character for such a young and inexperienced actress. Belmont delivers in the role, she gives easily the best performance in the film. There is a horrible, yet cathartic moment towards the end of the film when she turns on Dad (In a brilliant touch neither parent is named) and screams at him 'You f**k me' she tells him. Though everyone (in the scene and the audience) knows this Dad still denies it. The other challenge for Belmont is how graphic the material here is, she spends an inordinate amount of her screen time naked and halfway through the film is subjected to a graphic and horrifying rape scene. It can't have been a comfortable situation for her and that only helps her performance. In fact Belmont is so good that it almost seems wrong to call it a performance, the whole film has a great sense of realism and much of the time you feel you could be watching a documentary. Given her performance here it astounds me that Belmont had never acted before, if there were any justice she would have won, at least, a nomination for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. The other participant in that rape scene is Ray Winstone. His performance as Dad is a fascinating one, aside from the rape scene he plays him as a good man, and an excellent parent. This an interesting choice, before the rape scene we like Dad, he seems like the kind of parent we'd all want; responsible and caring. Of course this all goes out the window once Tom has his suspicions confirmed. Winstone has said that he found the rape scene hard to shoot because he has a daughter Belmont's age. The scene is hard to watch for just that reason, most of us know someone like Jessie, and someone like Dad. We see each of the events in the film (just as we did the novel from which it is adapted) through the eyes of Tom. Freddie Cunliffe, like Lara Belmont, had never acted before he won this part, and he too gives an excellent, understated, performance. He was 15 years old when The War Zone was shot and he gives a much more mature performance than that would suggest. He plays Tom as a more quiet character than the book suggested and the deletion of some of the background information on the character has made him more likeable and easier to empathise with. Tilda Swinton is a bit underused as Mum, her performance less memorable purely because she falls outside the main conflict of the film, between Jessie, Dad and Tom. Take nothing away from her though, she does her job well but the script gives us fewer memorable moments with her than with the others. Tim Roth's shot composition is wonderful, using the whole of the frame beautifully; this is a film that loses a lot on video. The bleak landscapes are nicely captured by Roth and his DP and serve as a perfect metaphoric backdrop for the story. I have made much of how disturbing and hard to watch the rape scene in the middle of the film is, and I stand by my words. The question is; is it justified? Do we need to see this abuse depicted so graphically and upsettingly? My answer is a resounding YES. It is useful to draw comparison here with another excellent film; The Accused in that film it was vital that (however difficult an experience it was) we see what Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) was subjected to and prove a court case. Here it serves only to prove Tom right. An interesting choice in comparison to the book was to make it crystal clear that this is a case of rape. In the novel Jessie is much more complicit in the incest (Indeed it is inferred that she instigated the whole thing). The scene makes the issue entirely unambiguous, something it could never be if we only heard about it. You won't enjoy The War Zone, I'd be concerned if anyone did, but it is hard not to be impressed by the dedication of the cast and director to making such an honest portrayal of such a challenging subject. This is a brilliant film, one I'd recommend to any adult (it is certainly not suitable for anyone under 18), but be warned it is far from an easy viewing experience.
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