The Plot: The mid-1980s. Rory (Jude Law) is a self-made man. Having left London over a decade ago, he pursued the American dream and found himself a wife and two children. Allison (Carrie Coon) is content with him and his ambitions, though as a commodities trader money has a habit of slipping through his fingers. Rory spots a business deal back in London with his old boss Arthur (Michael Culkin) that could make both of them a significant amount of money. He uproots his family to a large country manor outside London and sets about wining and dining prospective clients. As his ambitions grow larger, so do the cracks in his marriage with Allison…
The Verdict: Sean Durkin made quite the impression a decade ago with Martha Marcy May Marlene, a haunting film about a cult survivor that also introduced audiences to the multi-talented Elizabeth Olsen. Hollywood should have been knocking on his door within days… but the film business is notoriously tricky to navigate for an independent feature director. After all, he wouldn’t want to be swallowed up by a large corporate machine and churn out soulless entertainment. It’s taken that long for Durkin to deliver a second feature, with the help of BBC Films and Dublin-based Element Pictures. Like his debut, The Nest is a character piece that slowly turns the screws on its lead character, as he faces up to the reality of his situation. At which point they’re ready to aggressively pop with consequences for him and his family.
The tagline for the film is ‘having it all is never enough’. This is a theme that Durkin plays into with its 1980s setting, crass yuppie culture and that unshakeable belief that money will come rolling in like it’s on tap. Gordon Gekko would no doubt approve. Rory and his American wife Allison have moved back to England along with their two kids. He believes that London is a city of the future, awash with commercial potential – the same kind of supreme self-confidence that cost another character dearly in a contemporary film, The Long Good Friday. Rory is the breadwinner and Allison expects him to fund their fancy lifestyle and cavernous mansion. The reality is that Rory is something of a chancer, living beyond his means and gambling with his family’s future by holding out for that one big payout that will solve everything. ‘I pretend to be rich’ he confesses to a taxi driver who he can’t actually pay. He’s clinging on to an American dream that doesn’t function in gloomy Thatcherite Britain (even the streets of London are eerily empty).
Jude Law, who also executive produces, continues his recent winning streak of moving beyond the pretty boy roles and into strong character parts befitting his advancing years. He still has that boyish charm and twinkle in his eye, but with the sensibility of an actor willing to push himself into less-than-savoury roles. He’s got a juicy part here as Rory, who could talk his way into or out of any deal but he’s not a details man as his boss points out. He focuses on the bigger picture rather than the small banana peel along the way that could turn everything upside down. It’s a terrific performance from Law, selflessly shattering Rory’s fragile male ego as his marriage to Allison implodes in agonising slow-motion. She’s more in tune with the reality of their situation than he is, but even she becomes distracted by an expensive horse and neglects her concerned children in the process.
The Nest, a title alluding to the apparent safety and security of the family home, is a slow-burning drama about a family in crisis. It requires some patience, but it does ultimately deliver on its potential thanks to committed performances from Law and Carrie Coon, clear and focused direction from Durkin and a wicked closing shot that makes its point – pointedly. In these days of short attention spans, there’s a lot to admire in an old-school drama that takes its time to turn up the heat and watch the characters sweat and squirm under their own spotlight amidst the gaudy excesses of the 1980s. Let’s hope that it’s not another decade before we see a third film from the talented Durkin.
Rating: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
The Nest (UK / Canada / 16 / 107 mins)
In short: Makes its point
Directed by Sean Durkin.
Starring Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Culkin.