Greetings again from the darkness. I’m not sure how to officially protest, but this is writer-director Sean Durkin’s first feature film since the excellent and thought-provoking MARCY MARTHA MAY MARLENE in 2011. Okay, he directed a TV mini-series (“Southcliffe”) in that span, but there really should be some kind of ordinance mandating (or at least pleading with) Mr. Durkin to share his art more frequently. His approach is not conventional, and it challenges the eye and mind. The story doesn’t move at the pace we’ve come to expect, and the characters – though quite believable – don’t always act the way we expect.
Jude Law stars as Rory O’Hara, a business man with big dreams … dreams far bigger than his work ethic. Carrie Coon (“Fargo”, GONE GIRL) co-stars as his wife Allison. This husband and wife couldn’t be more different. Where Rory is the big-talking blow-hard who, Allison is the down-to-earth horse trainer. Oona Roche plays teenage daughter Samantha, and Charlie Shotwell (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, 2016) is the younger Benjamin. Durkin does a nice job with the family set-up in the first few minutes of the film. We get a sense of each, as well as the family dynamics. There is a great shot of Rory sitting idly at his desk, and soon after he wakes up Allison with a cup of coffee and the announcement that they need to move to London.
The film is set in the 1980’s (the Reagan-Thatcher era), and Rory’s desperation to prove his business acumen is on full display when he meets his old (now new again) boss Arthur (Michael Culkin). Rory is a social climber, intent on keeping up with the Joneses (or whatever they’re called in London), and he’s referred to as “Old British – New American”. He takes it as a compliment, but we soon witness Rory as little more than a fast-talking salesman. A restaurant scene featuring Allison, Rory, and his co-worker Steve (Adeel Akhtar) is brilliantly played, as Rory’s professional life begins to unravel at a pace matching that of his family life.
We see each of the family members cut loose in their own way, in an attempt to deal with the strain. Timid Benjamin lashes out at school. Samantha throws a wild bash at the family home. Allison guzzles gin and lets go on the dance floor. Speaking of the family home – it’s an old mansion that is the loudest symbol of Rory’s stretch to impress. The film seems to tease us a couple of time in regards to possible paranormal activity within the home, but that’s simply Durkin’s misdirection. The only thing rotten or haunted is the make-up of the family. Their domestic dysfunction is horror in its own right.
Rory’s delusions of grandeur and worshipping of money are finally thrown back in his face during a tremendous scene of Taxicab philosophy. When asked what he does for a living, Rory answers, “I pretend to be rich”, in what may be his only moment of clarity. Jude Law is superb as the charming guy we don’t really like, and Carrie Coon goes toe-to-toe as his polar opposite, and she’s exceptional. Mr. Durkin and cinematographer Matyas Erdely (SON OF SAUL, 2015) keep us off balance with the fascinating shots within the mansion, and startling close-ups that make a point. There is certainly no abundance of light, but this isn’t the type of family that the spotlight tends to find. It’s likely to be a divisive film not embraced by mainstream audiences, but adored by those who crave projects that are creative and different. It played Sundance prior to the pandemic, and now we have to hope we aren’t forced to wait another 9 years for the next Sean Durkin film. Although I will I have to.
In theaters and VOD September 18, 2020