“The Nest” is hard to look away from and harder to argue with

The Nest Jude Law and Carrie Coon in The Nest. (IFC Films)

The latest from Sean Durkin is a quiet, searing look at a family falling into disarray featuring stellar work from Carrie Coon.

In Children of Paradise, Arletty said, “Not only are you rich, but you want to be loved as if you are poor.” But that was 1945 and not only was Arletty playing a character, and that character was saying that in the 1830s. But the words endured, and now it’s the 1980s. It’s the Reagan era. Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) is a Brit living in New York with his wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and two children, Benjamin and Samantha (Charlie Shotwell and Oona Roche). He used to have one million dollars. Now he’s uprooting his family to a job in London tied to an old colleague (Michael Culkin).

He rents a farm mansion in Surrey with a plan to buy after the first year. He hustles his kids into the best schools and pretends he’s rich. The kids sit in the shadows and Allison spends her time with a horse Rory bought her. Dim doorframes sit inside doorframes that lead to dens and staircases and staircases that look like cupboards, and in one of them is a jewelry box where Allison hides what money she has left. All the while, Rory holds onto a work deal that may or may not come to fruition. “Be as poor as you can while still appearing rich,” he may as well be thinking to himself. “That’s a better return on investment.”

Needless to say, Sean Durkin’s movie is far different from Marcel Carné’s. It’s not an epic. It’s far more focused and with a very different scope, and even by its own terms, it’s cold and distant and often quite brutal. What sticks it apart from similar movies of recent years, however, is its cyclicality. Even with its period details and off-handed political references, The Nest isn’t a movie that feels timeless just because of its content. The Nest feels timeless because it’s always on the edge, because it’s easy to believe the Rorys of the world still misinterpret those words.

The menagerie is constantly on the verge of cracking. It’s quiet, yes, but that isn’t to call it unspoken. The Nest is about as outspoken as its characters are with Mátyás Erdély shooting each scene with the kind of fog he previously gave to Son of Saul and Sunset. When paired with Durkin’s framing and script, the movie wrangles its characters in and out of the bigger picture on a rotating basis. The pieces are all there. The Nest knows it, but that isn’t to say it’ll put them all together all that much. To do so would just be a lie not only on the family’s part but also on the movie’s.

While Rory is selfish and chauvinistic, even he’s earnest about his intentions when talking to Allison. He’s crude not just in what he says but also in his phrasing, something Law brings to fruition with ease. Coon all the while delivers stellar work, dipping into her role’s hypocrisies when they arise and interrogating their roots in each gesture. Durkin and his cast have made an honest movie: Only when Rory struts his feathers and chums his way through conversations is there any outright deception. Even then, the desperation marks some of the most honest behavior overall.

The Nest isn’t a movie that feels timeless just because of its content. The Nest feels timeless because it’s always on the edge.

This isn’t the type of picture that makes pointed attempts to deconstruct the family unit. It’s not a movie directly about mid-’80s economics or the cultural disconnect inherent to the O’Haras. That’s not its purpose. It, like Allison and even Benjamin and Samantha, knows that acknowledging the anguish is more than half the battle. The Nest is similarly pointed in its disinterest to find any specific answers; its endnote makes that clear. That’d probably be a lost cause anyway—to put a number, time, or cash value on the sheer act of enduring. After all, Rory pretends to be the man of the house by not being home.

Maybe he’ll just keep holding onto his ambitions. Allison is beyond realizing how fruitless those hopes are halfway through; maybe she’ll leave. Maybe he will. Either way, the chances are that Rory will dearly squeeze those delusions of richer and poorer actually coexisting. But that’s in the future. In The Nest, the whole family sat together for a meal once. That’s an achievement in and of itself. Forget Rory wanting to be loved as if he’s poor. That word—love—has spanned centuries, but no one here really knows the meaning of it.

The Nest hits VOD and select theaters this Friday, September 18.

The Nest Trailer:

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