A docu-drama portrayal of the violent and squalid underbelly of working class life in South London.
Oldman's vaguely autobiographical directorial debut is hard. As nails. And to watch. As awful yet compelling as a motorway pile-up, it will make an audience feel like voyeurs before its relentless and intensely unpleasant scenes of drug/alcohol/physical abuse, misogyny and social deprivation. Stop reading now if you thought this was some glossy hospital drama.
Nil By Mouth exposes in grainy Super 16 the violent and squalid underbelly of working class life in South London. It begins with a close-up of Raymond (Winstone), ordering a round in a smoky club. All seems unremarkable until he delivers the drinks. Then in a torrent of bad language that makes Boyz N The Hood and Twin Town sound like Teletubbies, Oldman has Raymond confront those he has kept waiting - including Mark (Jamie Forman) his partner in crime, his wife Valerie (Burke), her mother Janet (Morse) and Valerie's smackhead younger brother Billy (Creed-Miles) - the extended dysfunctional family from hell. Brutally, Raymond reinforces his dominance, denigrates the women and establishes a template for the film.
As settings switch between a high-rise flat, the streets and all-night shops, the brutish dialogue continues, spraying c-words like machine gun bullets, gradually shifting into the story of Billy who, after being attacked by Raymond steals from the family to finance his habit, then in a horribly poignant scene injects himself while his mother looks on in both concern and revulsion. But worse is to come in the final third as the women come to the fore and the pregnant Valerie is beaten by her drunken husband.
Long before that truly shocking moment, you may hate Raymond enough to want him off the screen. All nervous laughter at the swearing has long since been replaced by a craving for release that Oldman does not grant - either with a momentarily repentant Raymond's explanations or the sickeningly feelbad "happy" ending. Burke and Winstone dominate but there are awesome performances from the entire cast as Oldman paints an unforgettable picture as realistic and stylish as Scorsese's Mean Streets. In it, men are trapped in a nauseating downward spiral and only women exhibit any humanity or love, as shown by their pathetic capacity for forgiveness. It will stun and numb in equal measure, proof unrequested that it can be grim down south. Approach with extreme caution.
It will stun and numb in equal measure, proof unrequested that it can be grim down south. Approach with extreme caution.