Sean Durkin made a huge impression on the film community with his quietly affecting and impressive Martha Marcy May Marlene but hasn’t directed anything since. Strange, as he seemed to be the next big thing in Hollywood at the time, but the prodigal son returns now with The Nest, another impressive but curiously empty period piece starring Jude Law and Carrie Coon.
It’s the 1980s. Rory O’Hara is a restless soul; he convinces his American family to relocate to his home country of England where they purchase a huge manor in the quiet area of Surrey. His wife Allison trains horses and the couple’s son is enrolled in a fancy private school while Allison’s daughter from her previous relationship is left to go to a regular school. The family starts breaking apart at the seams as financial issues hit them and Rory becomes more and more desperate to keep up their lavish lifestyle.
The first striking thing about The Nest is just how good it looks. There is something strangely seductive in the way Durkin and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély frame Rory and Allison. Their large house is always dimly lit and England appears constantly a little foggy and cloudy, boring and grey. It’s a film that has very little happiness or joy to be found in. Rory and Allison’s marriage seems, if not happy, at least comfortable at first but it begins to unravel frighteningly fast once Rory can’t seem to bring in enough money, forcing Allison to take up work as a farm hand.
The second, and arguably even more, striking thing about the film is how good Jude Law and Carrie Coon are. Jude Law has crafted a career of consumer-friendly, easily digestible films with varying levels of quality, but The Nest proves the actor still has an edge to him. Rory is a meaty, challenging character that Law is allowed to sink his teeth into.
But it’s Coon who is the real MVP here. Her performance is fearless and ferocious, with undercurrents of tragedy and deep regret. Her presence electrifies the screen and her chemistry with Law is magnetic and compelling. The Nest is, without a doubt, an actor’s film, one that runs almost solely on the performances alone. Law and Coon elevate Durkin’s carefully constructed and layered dialogue, breathing life into their characters who at times seem more like metaphors than actual human beings.
After that, there isn’t much to The Nest. It’s a handsome film for sure, but much like the O’Haras’ marriage, there isn’t much there once you get past the surface. It’s glossy and pretty, but ultimately void of any true meaning. It simply has very little to say about anything it portrays. Money and greed are bad, we like to keep up appearances but The Nest fails to complicate or say anything nuanced about its traditional and familiar themes.
The Nest is an interesting watch, but it’s also painfully slow with very little plot. It doesn’t tug on the heartstrings nor does it ask you to root for any of the characters, all of whom come across as ugly and self-centred and at times, frustratingly naive. Durkin shows some of the same promise here and his direction is confident, but lacks aim. He is able to push his actors to give incredible performances, but as a whole The Nest isn’t quite as complex as Durkin wants you to believe.
The Nest is in cinemas across the UK on Friday 27th August