We were just talking the other day about how Jude Law always seems to be working and how his performances never fail to impress — and even as Law is tearing it up as a father on a desperate mission in the HBO limited series “The Third Day,” here he is again, and he’s just as outstanding as a very different but equally desperate father in the feature film “The Nest,” a searing portrait of a family ripping apart at the seams.
Over the last half-dozen years, Steppenwolf Theatre standout Carrie Coon has been just as prolific and outstanding as Law, in acclaimed TV series such as “The Leftovers” and “Fargo,” and in films such as “Gone Girl” and “Widows” — and the pairing of Law and Coon as a married couple doing an extended love/hate dance in “The Nest” results in an absolute master class in acting. When the two of them face off on a dinner date in which they verbally lacerate one another with pinpoint vitriol, one wouldn’t blame their hapless server for running out through the kitchen and never looking back.
“The Nest” is set in the 1980s and opens in suburban New York, where hotshot British commodities whiz Rory (Law) and his wife Allison (Coon), who gives riding lessons at a nearby stable, seem to have it all. They’re both doing what they love, they live in a beautiful home with Allison’s teenage daughter Sam (Oona Roche) from a previous union and their young son Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell), and there’s a loving family dynamic all around. It’s the American Dream.
But Rory is restless. He never wanted this safe and comfortable, upper-middle-class life. He yearns to return to England and rejoin the firm where he first made his mark as a rising star — but this time, Rory is going to make the kind of bold moves that will put him on the map as a major financial player. And just like that, Rory uproots the family with little regard for their feelings and they relocate to an insanely huge mansion outside of London. (Rory arrives first and greets the family with great enthusiasm and lavish gifts, and temporarily assuages Allison’s misgivings by promising to build her a stable and practice area. He even ships in a prized horse from America.)
Rory is welcomed with open arms at his old firm, with his former boss and mentor Arthur (Michael Culkin, perfectly playing an old-school, risk-averse financial fatcat) fondly treating him like a returning prodigal son. But when Arthur hosts a cocktail reception and Allison watches as Rory spins one tall tale after another and learns Rory even lied to her about the circumstances of their move, you can feel the onset of perhaps irreversible cracks in their marriage. (The look on Allison’s face when she realizes the extent of Rory’s deception is unforgettable. Coon conveys a world of emotions with great subtlety.) Rory becomes increasingly manic as he pursues a longshot deal that could make him as wealthy as he pretends to be, while Allison takes a job on a nearby farm just to help pay the bills as she spirals into a deep depression. Meanwhile, Sam and Benjamin are left to fend for themselves as their parents lash out at one another as if they’re in an Edward Albee drama.
“The Nest” features bookend Mom at the Kitchen Table moments. Early on, before the move to England, Allison clinks glasses of wine with her tough but loving mother (Wendy Crewson), who offers practical advice. Much later, Rory pays a visit to his estranged mother (Anne Reid), who didn’t even know he was married, didn’t know she had a grandson and responds to his invitation to visit by saying she doesn’t see the point after all this time. In both scenes, we pick up valuable information about what makes Allison and Rory tick.
Nearly a decade after making a splash with the brilliant psychological thriller “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” writer-producer-director Sean Durkin’s sophomore feature is deliberately paced, downbeat and dark — but there’s an exquisite, melancholy beauty in so many small moments, e.g., when Allison gulps her morning coffee and sucks on a cigarette like a lifeline as “These Dreams” by Heart plays on the car radio as she drives to work one morning, or when Rory has to walk the last few miles home from London just before dawn when his cabdriver realizes Rory can’t pay the fare. And there’s something exhilarating about watching Jude Law and Carrie Coon clashing with one another in perfect harmony.