The War Zone Reviews
Note: An NC-17 rating is better suited for this film.
Roth's direction is moody and austere--it emphasizes the simple details of domestic life, and the ways in which families unwittingly collude to avoid the truth. They live in a comfortable cottage on the countryside, sheltered from city living, where life revolves around the kitchen table. Roth favors scenes that appear to be about nothing: Mum (Tilda Swinton) talking on the phone in the background, while in the foreground Dad (Ray Winstone), bounces the new baby. He lingers on these uneventful moments -- as if to imply that such genial routine can provide a smoke screen. One of the lingering questions is whether Swinton's character knows what's going on. The son begins to suspect of incest, piecing together evidence, but unsure of how to address the abuse.
The performances are excellent throughout--but perhaps the most impressive scene is a raw exchange between the two non-professionals, Freddie Cunliffe and Lara Belmont. As she implores him to physically abuse her by placing a cigarette lighter to her bare breast. Her desire to manifest her psychic scars, and her mistaken belief in her complicity are unbearably heartbreaking. Belmont's performance is stunning and painful. Cunliffe does credit to Tom by underplaying his role, and reacting that builds to a dramatic breaking point. The final shot of the film is of the siblings huddled together alone in the bunker. It's framed like a painting, and held long enough that the pain and damage done to these children is apparent to every viewer in the audience. When the credits begin to roll, you are almost powerless to move. A father who loves his children, and wants the best for them -- but can't stop himself from destroying what he cherishes most.
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.