Carrie Coon & Jude Law star in searing domestic drama
Starring Jude Law & Carrie Coon
Directed by Sean Dirkin
On Demand Nov. 17, 2020
What’s something that couples argue about?
If you said “money,” you’d assuredly have the No.1 answer on Family Feud—and you’d also hit the bullseye for this searing domestic drama, about a marriage that begins to fall apart when the husband’s dreams of financial wealth fail to match his reality.
Set in the apex of the go-go 1980s, Jude Law is Rory O’Hara, a dashing London entrepreneur who came to America and made a million dollars trading commodities. His wife, Allison, (Carrie Coon), trains horses and gives riding lessons. Rory has a 10-year-old son (Charlie Shotwell), and he dotes on Allison’s teenage daughter (Oona Roche) like she’s his own.
Everything seems like a picture-perfect snapshot of an upper-middle-class blended American family—until Rory abruptly tells Allison one morning, “I think we need to move. There’s an opportunity.”
We can sense that Allison has heard this before—and we also sense the trouble that might be brewing in paradise. “This will be our fourth move in ten years,” she reminds him. “The money’s fine—right? Right???”
The family packs up—Allison’s favorite horse and all—and follows Rory, again, this time back to the United Kingdom. He’s already gone before them, with a get-rich scheme that he’s confident will make him a fortune. When they arrive, he greets them at the gateway of their new home, a sprawling country manor with cavernous wings and entire floors of empty rooms that they’ll never use, a massive table so huge and heavy it can’t even be moved, secret doors and passageways, and a scandalous superstar history.
“Led Zeppelin stayed here!” Rory excitedly tells his kids.
But Allison isn’t so excited, especially when she finds out that bills aren’t getting paid, Rory hasn’t been truthful about his new job and there’s a lot more money going out than coming in. There’s not near enough to feather this nest. Plus, their daughter starts rebelling, and their son is being bullied at school.
Director and writer Sean Dirkin, whose previous film was the marvelously twisty Martha Martha May Marlene (2011), creates a handsome, super-stylish portrait of a malignant marriage and its descent onto a battlefield of scorching verbal warfare, bitterness, resentment, scorn and emotional volatility. Ugly rarely looks so elegant.
Law makes everything he does imminently more watchable, from movies (The Talented Mr. Ripley, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, Vox Lux and the Sherlock Holmes franchise) to TV (The Young Pope, The Third Day). His Rory is superb, a consummate B.S. artist who became addicted to easy wealth and fast money and now can’t let it go—even after his wife, his boss (Michael Culkin), an old buddy (Adeel Akhtar) and even a cabdriver all call his bluff. Coon builds on her notable appearances on TV’s Fargo and The Leftovers and in movies, including Widows and Gone Girl, to score an absolute knockout as Allison, her meatiest role yet. Just seeing her face, as she listens at a ritzy party to what she now realizes are Rory’s lies, is like watching a master class in acting; you can practically feel the life draining from her, behind her smile, with every breath.
And the story is very much a product of its time and place. Rory, a native Englishman, wants to come “home” a conquering hero, having learned the ropes of rampant American capitalism in the era of wildcat, corporate-raiding deregulations and free-market Reaganonomics. “You know you’ve succeeded when you get tired of America,” marvels a London coworker. Now Rory wants to show his fellow Brits some good ol’ slick American king-making.
But this emperor has no clothes.
As the power dynamic in their relationship surely shifts, Allison becomes more assertive, more emboldened, more assuredly in charge. The “crap” she’s been shoveling, dealing with Rory’s lies and his non-starter enterprises, becomes more than a metaphor when she takes a job offered by a local farmer, just as another scene puts her, literally, in the driver’s seat while her husband has to hoof it home.
And their house becomes a character itself, a symbol of the big empty shell of the high life that Rory and Allison have bought into but can’t afford to actually buy. Its massive Kubrickian hallways seem to swallow the family into its bottomless maw, losing them in its shadows, its secrets and its echoes of the past. In another movie, it could very well be haunted. When Allison discovers her beautiful, beloved horse, Richmond, has taken ill, it parallels the state of her ailing marriage.
A richly detailed, slow-burn churn, with tension and turbulence always just below its surface, The Nest seems like it could have been a devilishly good miniseries, like Ozark, its characters and storylines longing to be stretched and extended—because it feels more like a sweeping, tragic, trans-American saga than a quick, over-and-out snapshot.
“You’re embarrassing,” Rory tells Allison.
“You’re exhausting,” she spits back.
And Law and Coon are both exceptional, as a couple whose caustic love curdles before our eyes in the year’s most majestically cinematic family feud.