Movie review: Jude Law plays a man adrift in ambition in ‘The Nest’
Written and directed by Sean Durkin
With Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell
The setting is a ranch house on a nice spread of land in woodsy, suburban New York. The time is ... well, we don’t know the exact year, but President Reagan is talking on the radio. Mom and dad and their two kids appear to be happy together. Allison (Carrie Coon) has some rental properties and gives horse riding lessons. Daughter Samantha (Oona Roche) – from Allison’s first marriage – is a budding gymnast. Son Ben (Charlie Shotwell) is happy to play soccer out back with dad. Dad is Rory (Jude Law), who drives the kids to school each day, then gets lost in thought about how well he was doing in London – before they relocated to the States – and how his career (he’s some sort of entrepreneur) is now floundering.
It’s in that ranch house that Rory makes a secret phone call, to his old boss in London, and when all is said and done, announces to Allison that they’re moving to London because “I have an opportunity there, and I’m running out of options here.”
He goes on to tell her the first of many lies about the details of that opportunity, but it’s soon clear that lying is part of what he does. Rory knows his way around his business, and he’s a great talker and charmer, but his life and career are all about putting up a good front, convincing people that he’s more ... better ... richer than he really is.
Despite opposition from Allison and the kids, the family changes settings, and is soon living in a huge manse out in the English countryside (Rory brags to Ben that Led Zeppelin once recorded an album there; is it another lie?). He’s back in an office, working as a commodities broker for his old boss Arthur (Michael Culkin, whose IMDB bio mentions that he’s “unmarried and lives in London and Norfolk with several dogs and a llama”), and has plans to move up the ladder within the firm.
But Rory keeps getting in his own way. He wants to show off Allison at a big party. She’s not comfortable with that. He tells everyone he meets that he sends his kids to expensive schools. No one cares. He explains to Allison that Arthur approached him about the job, but she finds out that’s not at all the way it happened.
The film is both a study of an ambitious man who’s out of control, and of a family that’s coming apart because of him. Mom and dad and the two kids are definitely not happy together. He isn’t up to the task at work, she’s forced to take on a menial job, Ben is bullied at school, Samantha is becoming surly. They’re being stretched to their limits, and we worry about all four of them.
Writer-director Sean Durkin, whose only previous feature was the intense and unsettling “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” has sharpened his skills here, both in his script’s words and the way he has his actors deliver them. Most noteworthy are the two-hander scenes between Law and Coon, and the ones with Law and Culkin. There’s also a great, forlorn soliloquy from Law in the back seat of a cab about once being rich.
One of the most impressive feats that Durkin pulls off is keeping the film on an even keel, making it appear that nothing much is happening, though all the while hints are being dropped as to where everything is heading.
Personal funds dwindle, confrontations about it occur, more lies are told, tensions rise, deals fall apart, desperation sets in. Things turn verbally and emotionally angry. The story has an uncertain ending, but Durkin doesn’t leave viewers in a despondent mood. He manages to blend in the tiniest glimmer of hope that things just might work out.
“The Nest” is now available on all cable and digital VOD platforms.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.