We are finally beginning to slowly creep out of a period in media where we have been bombarded with rose-tinted views on the 80s. Electronic music, fluorescent lights, big hair, buy, sell, excess and consumption. A glorious technicolour feast of extravagance is what we’ve come to associate with the decade. Director Sean Durkin has set himself the task of taking off those rose-tinted glasses and giving us a peek behind the curtain.
Durkin sets his story in 1986, at the point in time when the American dream was starting to influence business practices in Britain as well. As smaller firms begin to try to compete with their bigger American cousins, Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) places himself at the centre of it. A trader, he takes his family from America to the UK with the promise of wealth and prosperity. But, unfortunately, much of what he provides is an illusion, and it’s only a matter of time before cracks begin to appear.
Those who have seen Durkin’s previous works, such as Martha Marcy May Marlene, will recognise his style in The Nest: long, slow takes that allow scenes to carry themselves through the story like a play, droning but beautifully composed music that disappears at times only to overpower others, performances that are anchored in cold realism, understated but raw. We feel like flies on the wall, aware of secrets this family wouldn’t want us to see.
The English winter setting in the Surrey countryside gives everything a grey, misty tone, emphasised internally by cigarette smoke filling the bars, restaurants, and offices. The family’s home is overstated and ostentatious but sparse, and they seem to rattle around lost and afraid of it.
Jude Law’s Rory is an inherently unlikeable character, but his performance belies an insecurity underlying much of this. His boasts and lies are felt by the audience in the same way as his wife Allison (Carrie Coon), and we roll our eyes along with her. The Nest is Allison’s story, and the frustration of an intelligent and capable woman in the position she’s in is difficult to watch. In contrast to the 80s image of empowerment, we have been presented previously, here we are shown the misogyny that was rife in the world of business. Everything of value is masculine; everything masculine is deserving of more.
Occasional reminders of the more charming elements of the time are present in the music, allowing for moments of levity that remind of the hopefulness underpinning the characters’ motivations. All Rory really wants is a slice of the pie, but they’re big slices, and he can’t afford them.
The Nest is a challenging piece of work. The excellent performances are of difficult characters, and the pacing is glacially slow. However, The Nest doesn’t feel as though it outstays its welcome. Each scene feels considered and important, and the slowness allows for a gradual crumbling of the elusive dream Durkin presents us with. It may be a change of pace from what we’re used to, but it feels as though it’s a worthy one.
The Nest is airing in select cinemas as part of the Sundance London 2021 UK tour before a wider release on August 27th.