Suddenly Ingmar Bergman seems to be fashionable again. Just last week I watched Black Bear, a film with a hint of Bergman’s Persona. Now, in The Nest, there’s touches of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage.
Which means that if you’re looking for fireworks, you’ve come to the wrong film. The Nest is a journey into dark psychological territory so muted that it would be easy to miss what’s going on.
On the surface things look pretty peachy – Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) is a successful trader who’s moved his family from New York back to the UK, where Rory has used his huge Wall Street bonanza to rent a massive Elizabethan mansion – Led Zeppelin once stayed here! From here he’s going to relaunch himself back into the City of London, where 1980s deregulation is about to create an ocean of financial opportunity. He’s got a pretty wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and lovely kids, Sam and Ben (Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell) too.
Things are not quite as they appear. The money isn’t quite as available as it should be, though the O’Haras don’t seem to lack for anything. Nor is Rory’s return to the City quite as bathed in glory as he’d anticipated. Asked but never quite answered is the reason for Rory’s return from the USA in the first place. After all, Wall Street is where the big bucks are being made and Rory is all about the big bucks. It was somewhere around this point Michael Douglas was pulling on his red braces and warming up his “greed is good” mantra in the Wall Street movie. So what is going on?
This is writer/director Sean Durkin’s first film since 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. That was a story about a young woman who’d escaped a cult. It sidestepped genre conventions and so does The Nest, being, under it all, the story of a man, a marriage and a family going into meltdown.
In both films Durkin is acutely aware that it’s often what’s not being said that’s important. Key scene in The Nest, though one that could easily have ended up on the cutting-room floor, is the one between Rory and his mother (Anne Reid), who he’s not seen for at least ten years. And when he turns up at her council flat it’s also obvious he hasn’t been in touch all that time either. In a cagey bit of to and fro she learns that she has a grandson (“Ten!” she harrumphs when she finds out how old Ben is). And we can see, looking at the picture that Rory is showing her, that he’s chosen one that doesn’t include his wife’s daughter Sam as part of his family. That’s telling.
There are more to their exchanges than the words being said. Reid is a great bit of casting here, a remarkable actor, her face and body language saying the unsayable. Law is also on peak form as the handsome, charmer whose heart, what we can see of it, seems dark. But then there isn’t a duff performance by any of the cast, who are all operating on the same “show but don’t tell” instruction.
As with Martha Marcy May Marlene, Durkin actually goes to the trouble of rounding out peripheral characters. Wife Allison has her own business and is a more formidable person, Rory is finding, now she’s not so happy with her living arrangements. Ben is having trouble at school; Sam is hanging out with the local party animals. At work Rory’s boss is City dinosaur Arthur Davis (Michael Culkin) and there’s Steve (Adeel Akhtar), the underling who, Rory hasn’t realised, might be more savvy than he gives him credit for.
The Nest is a funny title for a film like this. It’s a horror movie title, and maybe at some level that’s what this is. It’s also one of those films that doesn’t so much end as conclude – the camera fades to black and announces that that’s where we’re leaving the O’Hara family, though, somewhere, out there, their story continues.
The Nest – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2021