Film review: ‘THE NEST’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The Nest, starring Jude Law and Carrie Coon, is a potent and disturbing look at ambition turned toxic, the price of deception and the breakdown of family.

Jude Law plays Rory a British ex-pat finance broker living a seemingly idyllic life in New York in the 80’s with his wife Allison (Carrie Coon), sensitive son Ben (Charlie Shotwell) and snarky teen daughter Samantha (Oona Roche).  Announcing that he’s been offered the job of a lifetime at his former London share trading firm, he insists the family relocate to England.  While they’re reluctant to do so he assures them this is the big score. The aroma of conman in his pitch to his family is an early indication that all is not well.  Their transatlantic move soon makes this apparent as Allison and the children are creeped out by the ancient creaky mansion Rory’s rented, the kids feel alienated at school and despite his rampant self-promotion, Rory’s deals fall through, plunging the family into financial turmoil.

Director Sean Durkin has constructed a wonderfully unnerving film that keeps us guessing as to whether we’re watching a drama, a thriller or even a supernatural horror film.  He creates an intense and disturbing sense of dread, something aided by an unnerving score from Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed and superb moody cinematography from Mátyás Erdély whose unforgettable lensing helped conjure such an unsettling atmosphere in the holocaust tragedy Son of Saul.

Durkin and Eredely fashion a series of memorable compositions which convey the growing discord of this crumbling family.  At first, they capture them in warm, cheerful collective shots then increasingly show them isolated in the frame and looking as if they’re under surveillance from an unseen menace. Also, as Ingmar Bergman did in Cries and Whispers, Durkin uses the setting to evokes the characters’ personalities and mental state.  Like Rory, the outrageously cumbersome mansion has the façade of wealth and status but is broken and ugly within.  The home’s labyrinthine structure of rooms hidden within rooms also conveys Rory’s world of deception.

Jude law superbly captures the maniacal ambition of someone from a poor background desperate to not only gain wealth but stick it to the toffs who turned their noses up at him when he was young.  His feverish energy, which borders on violent aggression, in business meetings is seemingly tolerated by the denizens of London’s financial upper tiers but it’s clear he doesn’t quite fit in and is sabotaging the materialist dreams he ravenously pursues.  Law’s matched by Carrie Coon who gives a superbly spiky performance as the increasingly bitter and acerbic Allison who, like everyone else, grows tired of Rory’s big noting bluster.  The scenes in which she fiercely refuses to play the demure wife at social events are terrific.

While this unnerving film has a distinct identity, it echoes some fine movies of the past.  Its 80’s financial industry setting and depiction of unhinged greed recalls Wall Street with Jude Law a more arrogant Bud Fox, the ferocious domestic screaming matches between Rory and Allison remind us of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the way family breakdown leaves the teen and tween children confused and seemingly cut adrift from their world has shades of The Ice Storm.

This is a mood and character piece rather than a plot-driven film – some threads are in fact left untied – so those who demand the clean lines of typical melodrama will struggle a little with this one.  Those looking for smart, provocative and unsettling cinema will be enraptured from start to finish.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Sean Durkin.

Release date: 21st Jan 2021.

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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