THE NEST was previously reviewed as part of our Sundance 2020 coverage.
PLOT: A British commodities broker (Jude Law) relocates his American family to Thatcher-era UK with the promise of deregulation in the air. However, his family soon buckles under his overwhelming desire for material wealth.
REVIEW: It’s been nine long years since director Sean Durkin blasted on to the scene with his deeply unsettling Sundance hit MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, with only the criminally underseen “Southcliffe” Netflix limited series to tide us over until now. While this is closer to “Southcliffe” than MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, it has the same distinct, uneasy quality. It’s not a psychological thriller that like that was, but it’s a deeply unsettling look at how the fractures within a family can grow and grow until, at some point, you no longer recognize the person sitting across from you at the breakfast table in the morning going about their business.
THE NEST is anchored by a pair of powerhouse performances by Jude Law and Carrie Coon, as the yuppie parents suddenly unmoored by the notion that they may not be quite as upwardly mobile as they thought. While set in the eighties, the message is just as relevant now, with it a cautionary tale of how our overwhelming desire to project wealth may give the illusion of success but hides real struggles that are bound to come out sooner or later. Law’s character, Rory, does all but exclaim from the mountaintops that he’s rich, constantly bragging about his mansion (rented), his horses (sick and dying), his beautiful blonde American wife (on the verge of a nervous breakdown) and his two kids (one is being bullied, the other is acting out). On the surface he has it all, but, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that behind all the smoke and mirrors, he has nothing.
This is one of Law’s best performances, being the slick guy whose charm is just starting to wear off, and doesn’t have much to offer beyond that – and he knows it. By the same token, Durkin is careful not to present him as beyond redemption. One never questions that he loves his family and wants to provide for them, but as he tells his wife during a confrontation, it’s not that he doesn’t appreciate what he has it’s just that he wants MORE.
Coon is just as impressive as his wife, who’s happy enough to take a back seat and let her husband provide for her, even if she knows in her gut that he’s lying to her. Her breakdown throughout the film is the best piece of acting she’s had the opportunity to do so far in a feature (on TV is another story as she’s had a whole slew of amazing roles on “The Leftovers” and “Fargo”). It’s not hard to imagine her one day topping the A-list as one of the most respected actresses of her generation. Her role is starkly different than what she usually plays, as she’s cast as more of a trophy wife, with her good looks being, in some ways, another commodity for her husband to put on display. She gradually comes to pieces as the film goes on, not that her kids or even her beloved pet horse are faring any better in early eighties London. Charlie Shotwell, of CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, is impressive as their sweet-natured son, who’s bullied by his posh school mates and is in turmoil throughout, while Oona Roche is similarly good as their teenaged daughter, who falls in with a faster, speed-addled crowd.
The London period setting is well-observed, if not overpoweringly eighties in a self-conscious way. The lack of constant garish fashions makes this feel more authentic, like a movie that could have been made in the eighties rather than about it. The only real concession to the era is the amazing well-curated soundtrack, with tracks by The Psychedelic Furs (“Love My Way” has become the defacto eighties song in movies it seems), Bronski Beat and more. The sparse score is similarly interesting, being the work of The Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. Many will also take notice of the stark, grim imagery courtesy of SON OF SAUL DP Mátyás Erdély, who also shot SOUTHCLIFFE and the Sean Durkin-produced JAMES WHITE.
Most certainly, THE NEST will not be for everyone. Truth be told, at Sundance, it’s already getting a pretty mixed reception, with a lot of reviews respectful but not overly enthusiastic. Without a doubt, it’s an acquired taste, being pretty grim, cold fare, but I also think people are missing that the story does have a hopeful side to it. Like the best movies I’ve seen at Sundance, it’s a challenging work that hopefully provokes a little introspection in its audience, as its message is very relevant to our social media-obsessed world. It’s a strong, distinctive work and one of the best movies out of this year’s Sundance crop.