The Nightingale Movie Review
From the director of The Babadook comes a much more realistic nightmare set on the fringe of civilization in a world marred by racial tension, genocide, and servitude. The Nightingale is a grim, gritty revenge drama that quickly wraps its wings around you and then spends much of its story slowly letting go.
The Nightingale is not for the faint of heart. Or most parents with small children. My wife, intrigued by the premise—a young woman heads into the Australian frontier to hunt down the soldiers who murdered her family—and properly alerted to what was to come, bailed shortly before the second rape scene and… what was to come.
The film’s first 30 minutes are intense and emotional, and writer/director Jennifer Kent does a superb job of establishing the grimy, tortured world of colonial Australia, in which the Brits have driven the aborigines from their land and turned them into second-class citizens, though “citizens” is a kind way of putting it.
Aisling Franciosi delivers a beautifully harsh performance as Clare, whose singular drive for vengeance fuels the film. Her anger and pain ripple through every expression she flashes, a powerful turn that brings Kent’s character to life in ways the director probably couldn’t have even imagined.
Baykali Ganambarr, too, is fantastic as Billy, the aboriginal man Clare hires and eventually befriends on her quest. Ganambarr’s character is much more reserved, his affect molded by a lifetime of abuse and a sense of helplessness. His arc is arguably more interesting than Clare’s, his decades of emotional suppression suddenly unleashed, an awakening if you will.
Despite everything The Nightingale has going for it, Kent is unable to sustain the intensity of her opening scenes. It’s not that the rest of the movie had to be as violent as the beginning—it would be an almost impossible watch if it were—but the remainder of the film feels like a slow decline, never again achieving the success of its first act. There are stretches that feel long, others that are brilliantly executed, and overall a simmering sense of foreboding, but Kent doesn’t quite maintain forward momentum at all opportunities.
The Nightingale boasts powerful performances by Franciosi and Ganambarr and a fully realized and gritty world envisioned by Kent. The story itself doesn’t quite operate at the same level, even if it comes close at times. The result is a very good movie that doesn’t quite capitalize upon its full potential.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.