Written and Directed by Gary Oldman (1997)
Starring: Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles, Laila Morse
Nil by Mouth is, primarily, a difficult movie to watch. For years I had known that it existed as Gary Oldman’s directorial debut and being a bit of a completionist when it comes to actors I admire filmographies, I knew I was going to watch it. But I really, really didn’t want to. It is the realistic depiction of a working class neighborhood in London, with social ills such as drug use, alcoholism, and spousal abuse prominent in the narrative.
The film works best as a series of moments in life for the extended family. Valerie (Burke) is married to Ray (Winstone) and expecting their second child. Her brother Billy (Creed-Miles) is living with them, but gets kicked out for stealing Ray’s drugs. He goes to live with his mother Janet (Morse), who supports his drug habit because she can’t stand his withdrawal.
I never want to watch someone shoot up ever again. I also never want to watch someone drink Smirnoff vodka or start fights. Subjects that other directors have handled as romantic are stripped down to the realistic results of addiction and abuse. Over the course of the film Ray beats Valerie and causes her to lose the baby. He proceeds to drink and harass her as she moves to her mother’s and a friend’s house to stay away from him. When she does confront Ray she eloquently gives a speech about their relationship, but it seems like the sentiment won’t last. They still have a child together and Ray still has legal rights.
Ray himself does not seem like an inhuman figure. He tells his friend a story about watching his father in the hospital and their difficult relationship. Its an important reminder to the audience that even though Ray is a person who does terrible things, he’s still a person.
Its just a really difficult two hours to get through to see that.