Neely Swanson

“The Nest” – Empty [MOVIE REVIEW]

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Jude Law as “Rory” and Carrie Coon as “Allison” in Sean Durkin’s THE NEST. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

by Neely Swanson

“The Nest,” written and directed by Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), is an attempt at dissecting the disintegration of a marriage. A more appropriate title might have been “Scenes from a Marriage,” but Ingmar Bergman got there first and did it better (much).

Rory O’Hara, a self-defined entrepreneur, once at the top but no longer, lives what appears to be a comfortable American suburban life with his wife Allison, stepdaughter Samantha, and son Ben. Allison maintains a business stabling horses on their small estate and gives riding lessons. She is living her ideal life. Both kids are well adjusted in their respective schools. Then, seemingly out of the blue although there have been clues along the way, Rory announces that they will be moving back to his native England where he is set to take on an important job with his old firm making deals and high-level trades that will take advantage of his extensive knowledge of the U.S. market. It’s 1986 and deregulation is about to upend business as usual.

Significantly, he has made these arrangements without any consultation with the rest of the family; an unusual move as Allison had previously considered herself an equal partner in the relationship. Rory has taken care of everything – a new luxurious mansion in Surrey, commuting distance to London; elite schools for the kids; and a contract to build a stable on the grounds so Allison can continue her career.

As can be expected, nothing is as promised. The house is unmanageable, Rory hasn’t paid the bills, and both kids are miserable at their new schools. Even worse, Rory, with much to prove, is failing at work and blaming everyone else for not having his vision. Things go from bad to worse. Rory is a striver punching above his weight, determined to be the millionaire he once was. Growing up on an estate (British for low-income housing project), his primary goal has always been to distance himself from his hateful, small-minded family and lower-class background. But desperation eats away at his carefully cultivated upper-class image as things careen out of control.

No doubt Sean Durkin wanted to explore the disintegration of this family structure and, to a certain extent, he does. But mainly what he has accomplished are some interesting but poorly integrated scenes that allow each of the actors one or more moments in the sun.

Carrie Coons (“Widows”) as Allison is less effective than she might have been as she has seemed totally self-absorbed from the beginning. Her increasing disgust with her husband leaves her with less sympathy than she might have had if one had bought into her as an involved mother and supportive wife at the start of the piece. The disintegration of the marriage or, more precisely, of the family is no surprise given her antipathetic nature.

Charlie Shotwell (“Captain Fantastic”) as their young son Ben is terrific. His retreat into himself as he maneuvers an extremely hostile school environment, chosen for its snob appeal rather than its appropriateness, a sister who is facing the same difficulties as him and inexplicably distancing herself from him, and parents who no longer see him is a tour de force for someone that young.

Oona Roche in her film debut as Ben’s half-sister Samantha is fine but has been given less to work with. She’s a petulant teenager acting out in stereotypic ways, adding little to the narrative.

In a very short but informative scene, the marvelous Anne Reid (“Last Tango in Halifax”) delivers a gut punching performance as Rory’s mother. She embodies everything he has tried to leave behind, including her hateful resentment of his presence and disdain of his upward mobility. With nothing behind her eyes and her renewed rejection of him, you instantly understand why the success that is rapidly slipping between his fingers is so critical.

Jude Law as “Rory” in Sean Durkin’s THE NEST. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

And then there is Jude Law as Rory. “The Nest” is about him, not about his family. Everyone and everything in this film is about Rory. It is a masterful performance and the primary, possibly only reason to see this film. From his first moment on screen when Rory begins scheming a return to England behind his family’s back to the flop sweat as he fails to convince others of his vision and genius at his firm, Law holds everything below the surface until the snowball of missteps turns into an avalanche of failure. Speaking like the posh executive he thinks he is, Rory is unaware that there are small, barely noticeable lapses into old speech patterns. He is fooling only himself, often to the barely disguised amusement of others. Law’s Rory has no backup plan.

And unfortunately, neither does Durkin who ends his film precipitously, as though to say, “this is all I have.” Durkin has created a disjointed, catastrophe-inclined scenic structure that is diffuse in terms of story structure. It is, however, a worthwhile view because of Jude Law’s layered performance of desperation and delusion. Law has created an excellent body of work and I would put this at or at least near the top of his many roles.

Available On-Demand on Tuesday, November 17.

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