Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
United Kingdom/Canada, 2020. Element Pictures, BBC Films, Elevation Pictures, FilmNation Entertainment. Screenplay by Sean Durkin. Cinematography by Matyas Erdely. Produced by Rose Garnett, Ed Guiney, Amy Jackson, Andrew Lowe, Christina Piovesan, Derrin Schlesinger. Music by Lucy Bright. Production Design by James Price. Costume Design by Matthew Price. Film Editing by Matthew Hannam. Gotham Awards 2020. National Board of Review Awards 2020.
British Jude Law and American Carrie Coon are happily married and enjoying the Greed Is Good eighties, he a successful trader and she a dedicated horse trainer and riding instructor raising her daughter and their son in the luxury that his financial success provides. He tells her that an incredible opportunity has come up, a job in England working for his business mentor and they should all cross the pond to his homeland, to which she reluctantly agrees. Setting them up in a giant, rather faded country manor and enrolling the kids in posh, expensive schools, the couple seem to be continuing their tony existence until cracks begin to appear in their flawless existence: a party scene has Law’s boss Michael Culkin make a speech that uncovers the first of a series of lies that Coon will soon realize have been guiding her marriage, and the shot of the actress’s face reacting ever so subtly to it is one of the film’s finest and most devastating moments. Phone calls soon begin to come in about cheques bouncing and her husband starts asking to borrow money from the secret stashes she keeps around the house; investigating Law’s past reveals him to be a child raised in a council flat who became a rich businessman through ruthless ambition and is now struggling to keep the facade going while his business deals are falling apart. Coon, in response, tries to keep her house and herself together, but the cavernous mansion feels even more unwelcoming the more she realizes how much they don’t belong there, and it begins to become difficult to avoid taking her frustration out on her children. Sean Durkin made us wait nine years after his terrific debut Martha May Marcy Marlene but it was worth it, he has delivered a finely wrought, dramatically thrilling portrait of a marriage exploding with lies whose fireworks are that much more dazzling thanks to the cast (none of them better than the female lead, who is mesmerizing) and whose triumphs far outweight its flaws: Durkin’s script has a vague idea of the business world that Law is moving through, but it has a very specific concept of the emotional terrain these characters are covering, watching them squirm in the chains placed on them by modern life is a wonder to behold (as are those period-specific acrylic nails she puts on for their fancy soirees). The film works far better when it’s being outrageous (like her outburst at a climactic business dinner) than when it’s trying to be symbolic or poignant (let’s pet that horse just one more time), but it has a lush sense of moody atmosphere to go with the haunted lives of these shells of human beings who are trying to manifest their destiny somewhere in the materialism that has overtaken their world. Anne Reid appears in a terrific, brief supporting role.