Review by Sean Boelman
Sean Durkin’s feature debut Martha Marcy May Marlene was released in 2011 and signaled the arrival of an exciting voice on the indie scene. And while it took nine years for his follow-up — the domestic drama The Nest — to be released, it was worth the wait as this is a phenomenal acting showcase for its two wonderful stars.
The film follows a family who moves to England after its patriarch decides to embark on a new financial endeavor, causing long-buried tensions to surface after their professional and personal lives begin to fall apart. And like Durkin’s acclaimed debut, this movie deals in subtle melodrama, taking a story that could have easily been big and soapy and stripping it down to its bare emotions.
There is definitely a greater sense of reality to what Durkin depicts here than most portraits of families in turmoil. There are big moments, but these bursts of anger and violence are interspersed between stretches of mundanity, which is how things often proceed in the real world. It crawls under the viewer’s skin in a way that is deeply discomforting.
If Durkin’s script does come short in one area, it’s that the things that it has to say aren’t particularly interesting or unique. Marriages are about trust, and movies about marriages are about said trust being broken. It’s a tad disappointing that Durkin wasn’t able to do more, because he had all the pieces to deliver something exceptional, but it’s really solid for what it is.
Granted, the film still works because Durkin invests the audience in this relationship. On an individual level, the characters wouldn’t work, but the way in which they feed off of each other is quite compelling. Ultimately, the marriage is given much more of an emphasis than the relationship between them and their young children, and that feels like an opportunity lost.
But Jude Law and Carrie Coon each have such a commanding screen presence that it’s understandable why they took the focus of the movie. Coon is arguably the more impressive of the two, having the more nuanced role, but Law turns in another phenomenal performance as the man trying to hold onto the world with every bit of his might.
The film also has an air of elegant simplicity about its style. The cinematography is beautiful in a very low-key way, with some gorgeous shots of the English countryside, but not in a way as to be overly flashy or distracting. And the score is very good but definitely serves more as an accompaniment than a factor in its own right.
The Nest doesn’t crackle with as much originality as one would hope, but brilliant performances and able direction make the quiet yet straightforward script into something engrossing. Sean Durkin certainly hasn’t lost it, so he needs to hurry up and make another flick.
The Nest hits theaters on September 18.