The Nest, 2020.
Directed by Sean Durkin.
Starring Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell, Adeel Akhtar, Anne Reid and Michael Culkin.
A flashy commodities trader relocates his American family back to his home nation of Britain, where he attempts to seal a deal that will set them up for life.
More than 30 years after Gordon Gekko declared in Wall Street that “greed, for a lack of a better word, is good”, cinema hasn’t lost any of its appetite for taking a shot at capitalism. In Sean Durkin’s new 1980s-set thriller The Nest, the avatar for the horrors of financial excess is Jude Law’s swaggering commodities trader Rory O’Hara – a man addicted to living beyond his means. The film introduces him as an avatar of the American Dream, living in a beautiful house with his beautiful family.
But the money has run out. Rory confides in his wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), that they’re struggling to make ends meet but he has been offered a chance to work with his former boss (Michael Culkin) if they are willing to up sticks and jet back to England. Soon, Rory has paid a year’s rent on a cavernous Surrey mansion once used by Led Zeppelin while they were recording an album and he’s waist-deep in any number of schemes to make them rich.
Law’s performance perfectly essays the excruciating desperation of a man who has to keep moving in search of the next success, like a perpetually unsatisfied shark. He slithers and slimes through the movie riding a wave of inch-thick sleaze, relishing the opportunity to pontificate about the benefits of Thatcher’s financial deregulation and to throw out phrases like “pied à terre in Mayfair” as if they sit comfortably in his mouth. It’s a terrific performance of pure macho bravado, but one upstaged by the even more impressive work quietly being done by Carrie Coon.
It would’ve been easy for Allison to be a passive victim in this movie – someone buffeted by the hailstorm of her husband’s extravagances and cons. But in the hands of Durkin’s script and Coon’s performance, the character becomes somebody much more interesting. There’s an acidic bitterness at her core, most notably conveyed via her pithy clapbacks to the uptight sexist micro-aggressions of Britain’s upper crust. She becomes increasingly isolated and lonely throughout the film and Coon is able to communicate this with palpable heart, even though she shares most of her scenes with a horse.
Sadly, Durkin’s movie is a rather inconsistent vessel for its towering lead performances. Initially, the signs are good, with Durkin building an atmosphere of mystery and tension similar to the foreboding darkness at the heart of his debut feature Martha Marcy May Marlene. Ultimately, though, this tension feels like a wave that never crests and leaves the film feeling as if it lacks a thesis beyond a broad-strokes critique of the ways in which capitalism dehumanises and consumes those with ambitions of social mobility.
Indeed, interesting threads around that theme are tossed aside far too easily. The movie introduces Rory’s mother – played by the incomparable veteran thesp Anne Reid – in a glimpse at Rory’s less privileged past, but never delves any further into how that shaped him as an adult. Instead, there’s a hilariously ham-fisted scene in which Rory is taken to task on his bluster and bombast by a taxi driver in a sort of grotesque caricature of the “ordinary man”. Perhaps Durkin saw the Churchill on a train scene in Darkest Hour and decided he wanted some of that nonsense.
It’s a shame that The Nest simply peters out as it has many of the ingredients for an incisive and sharp drama. Law and Coon are each doing some of their best work in years and there’s an enthralling atmosphere to the film’s opening hour. But Durkin resists conventional narrative structure to such an extent that the tension and intrigue dissipates amid the escalating mania of Law’s character. When the emotional and thematic climax of a movie like this is a taxi driver with a comedy Cockney accent, something has been desperately lost along the way.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.