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Nil By Mouth

Year: 1997
Production Co: SE8 Group
Director: Gary Oldman
Producer: Gary Oldman
Writer: Gary Oldman
Cast: Ray Winstone
Because of both the blatantly commercial movies and outright flops he's involved with (Harry Potter, The Fifth Element, Lost in Space, Air Force One), it's easy to forget Gary Oldman is one of the most talented people working in film. One has only to see his chameleon-like performances in The Contender, State of Grace, JFK, Bram Stoker's Dracula, True Romance and Hannibal to realise what an incredible actor he is.

Few realise what a talent he was/could be behind the camera; his only directorial outing to date is this searing, disturbing, heartbreaking portrayal of the violence and destruction alcohol causes in the poverty-stricken east end of London.

It's a combination of Oldman's eye for both casting and direction and the natural performances he elicits that makes this one of the most realistic films you'll ever see. Every line and every scene is infused with the cadences of real speech and behaviour – not just the dramatic parts – and you could quite easily believe you're watching a documentary.

At the top of the performance heap is Winstone as Raymond, a character as relatable as he is reprehensible, as lovable as he is detestable. A lot of movies, actors and directors pay lip service to the human capacity for both good and evil, but Oldman and Winstone nail it.

Alcohol and drugs are tearing Ray, his wife Val, their daughter, his mother in law and brother in law Billy and the friends around them apart. We begin by seeing the good side of their addiction, enjoying each other's company in a club, watching a comedian and having a few drinks.

But Billy has a 60-pound a day heroin habit which he'll steal anything to fund, even the smack belonging to the brutish and volatile Ray. Addiction to drugs of some sort forms the backdrop of all their lives, and when Ray snaps one night with terrifying ferocity, the cracks yawn open to form chasms that everyone will fall into.

The desperation and fear are palpable throughout but the last scene is an anomaly – everyone apparently back to normal and friends again. Oldman seems to be commenting on how the family can simply take such violence and tragedy in its stride and go on with life, having been there all before. In that regard the final scene is the most hreatbreaking.

Winstone is scarier than a thousand thriller movie villains and the film must hold some sort of record for profanity. Internet message boards discussed the number of mentions of the word 'fuck (470) and the word 'cunt' (42).

Oldman, Winstone, directing and performance on fire. It will depress you and you won't enjoy it, but don't miss it.

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