The War Zone (1999)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

The molten emotional power that flows from Tim Roth's directorial debut carries multiple messages that sear one's soul. Yet it also faithfully portrays one of the harshest aspects of the relationship between children and parents. Based on an acclaimed novel by Alexander Stuart, The War Zone is an often-troubling exposition on family dynamics and the dysfunction that bubbles beneath the surface. Award winning actors Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton, along with complete newcomers Lara Belmont and … More

Rating: R
Genre: Drama , Action & Adventure , Art House & International
Directed By:
Written By: Alexander Stuart
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jul 18, 2000
Lot 47


as Jessie
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Critic Reviews for The War Zone

All Critics (52) | Top Critics (13)

Gifted Brit actor Tim Roth makes a feature directing debut with this well-acted, uncompromisingly depressing drama about a working-class family torn apart by incest and abuse.

Full Review… | July 20, 2007
Top Critic

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Full Review… | April 25, 2003
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
At the Movies
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Detroit News
Top Critic

dark and disturbing journey of family dysfunction

Full Review… | July 2, 2012
Old School Reviews

Audience Reviews for The War Zone

A tight knit English family moves from London to the isolated Devon countryside where the formative young son accidentally discovers that Dad is seriously violating Sis ... about the hardest look at the inner workings of dysfunctional family politics as I've ever seen. Not for everyone by any stretch. Roth's directorial premiere is eyeball scorching, gut churning stuff.

Apeneck Fletcher

Super Reviewer


Prima facie, "The War Zone" comes across as a misnomer for this brutally disturbing drama directed by Tim Roth. This reviewer thought it is set against the backdrop of a war, but when the film unfolded, the underlying meaning of the title became clearer; the only war this film deals with is a personal war; a war within!


15-year old Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is the hero of this sad story. His family, consisting of 18 year old sister Jessie (Lara Belmont), Dad (Ray Winstone), and Mum (A bloated Tilda Swinton) have moved to the Devonshire countryside to live on an isolated property, leaving their London city life behind. Tom is bored and feels lonely, clearly misses London. There hardly are neighbours; the area is mostly desolate. Pregnant mum just delivers a baby amidst difficult circumstances (a car accident!) and yet the baby is born healthy. Everyone is slightly injured, but in the end it's all hunky dory and life goes on. The isolation and modest living conditions have also made these people used to casual nudity around the house. Tom is a curious teen, and he seems to have taken fancy to a neighbouring girl, Lucy (Kate Ashfeld).

The seemingly peaceful environment in the family is disrupted one day when Tom comes face to face with a shattering truth about an incestuous relationship between his Dad and sister...


But haven't we seen so many other films that deal with incest? Maybe so, but what makes "The War Zone" distinct, is in its non-adherence to rendering simplistic treatment to its characters. These characters are complex, they aren't necessarily pigeon-holed to predictable traits. So then, when we witness the dynamics of these characters we are forced to ask ourselves several questions. The dad seems to be a really nice and loving father. Why then, does he develop the sick desire to sexually abuse his own daughter? Is he even aware of what he is doing? Is he aware of the gravity of his heinous act? Or is it rather casual to him; ....perhaps he himself has a history of abuse dating back to his childhood?

And then there's Jessie; she is well aware of the implications of the deeds she is involving herself in. Or is she? Maybe she is going along with it, maybe she is enjoying it. Or perhaps suffering (?) silently, because she is too afraid to bring it out in the open; maybe just too ashamed. And the mother is blissfully unaware of what is happening....will she be able to take it once she realizes?


Which brings us to Tom, who is at the epicenter of this explosive situation. It is actually through his eyes that we see the film. You can't help but yield to a hint somewhere in the middle of the film that there's a curious voyeur inside him who wants to videotape the action. And you wish deep within that it is only to expose the sick act. But it can't be ignored that Tom is a 15 year old teen struggling with his own transition into adulthood. And call it a case of bad timing; fate is playing a cruel joke on the boy by invoking the adult inside this vulnerable teen by bringing him face to face with the most aberrant of sexual acts inside his own home! At a point of time the sister almost hits the nail on the head after a confrontation, "This isn't just about me and dad is it?" further insinuating that actually Tom wants to know about sex and himself wants to experience it!

Tom is thus, a soul torn apart. Maybe he knows the difference between right and wrong but is finding himself succumbing to a perverse temptation, given his unstable transition phase! Jessie tries to put her assumption about Tom to the test in a bizarre episode at her friend Carol's place in London; then again, perhaps her intentions are different altogether! Her eventual action further clouds any hopes the viewer may have about gaining an insight on Jessie's thought process. It is in this unpredictability of the characters that most of the success of this excellent handling of a fine screenplay by Alexander Stuart lies. Tim Roth, a fine actor of our time, proves that he can handle the director's job with an equal finesse. He clearly understands his characters' complexities and his vision of the characters' personae enables him to deliver their perfect transition to the motion picture.


The soul is all there, but what about the body? No complaints there either; Roth captures some of the finest images of the isolated, rain-soaked country side and the rocky seashore. The feeling of desolation is further enhanced by the achingly beautiful score by Simon Boswell. The choice of actors is spot on. Winstone and Swinton are simply great in their respective roles. But special mention must be made of the actors who play the siblings, Lara Belmont and Freddie Cunliffe who had no prior acting experience but emerge winners with their effortless performances.

Do not miss Tim Roth's "The War Zone". It is a disturbing look at something as warped as incest but a patient and an open-minded viewing would ensure that instead of turning your head away in shame, you'll end up thanking yourself for subjecting yourself to this mind-numbing yet rewarding film experience.

Score: 9/10


Aditya Gokhale
Aditya Gokhale

Super Reviewer

Accusations of incest surface in an isolated family.
This is a remarkably dark drama. The pace is slow and the mood is always heavy. While I understand that the story and subject matter fit the dreary atmosphere, I couldn't help but think that I'd rather slit my wrists than continue watching.
There is little energy behind most of the performances, which often amount to pensive, angry looks in steady shots. This is true save Ray Winstone, whose character has life and a humanity despite his depravity. The one compelling moment is in the third act when Tom finally confronts his father with his suspicions. Winstone gets to show off his talent, but the rest of the cast is left in the miasma of the film's heavy climate.

Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

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