Back in the ’80s, the art house movie theater was a fantastic communal experience. A city would have that one theater that served up Toblerone and had a faint smell of clover cigarettes by the box office. Going to school at NC State allowed me to be within a short driving distance of the art houses in Raleigh (The Rialto), Chapel Hill (The Varsity) and Durham (The Carolina). This meant that pretty much every weekend there was a chance that a film that wasn’t a Hollywood Blockbuster was opening in the area. Films made by indie production houses and small budget international films had a chance to find an audience that enjoyed starting the weekend with a movie. Plenty of filmmakers from around the globe had a chance to build their legacy during this time. Now with streaming, people will just wait for that movie at the theater to show up at home. Jennifer Kent would have ruled the arthouse in the ’80s. Her first film The Babadook became a horror cult sensation especially when it was included in an LGBT category on a streaming service. The creature with the top hat became a mascot at Pride parades. Jennifer Kent has returned with a film that isn’t a horror flick, but a historical nightmare in The Nightingale.
Clare Carroll (Game of Thrones‘ Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish convict sent to Australia back when the country is a penal colony. She works on small military post with her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) and their baby. Life is tough on the island of Tasmania for them, but she senses that her sentence has come to an end. She needs Lieutenant Hawkins (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘s Sam Claflin) to start the process so her family can be free. But he has little time for her needs. He has a visiting officer at the base that’s in charge of giving him a promotion so he can leave this remote base. She even agrees to sing before the troops in order to make things more happy for the visiting officer. After the show, she shows up at Hawkin’s room to ask about the letter. Hawkins demands her to sing again. Things go bad swiftly for her as Hawkins attacks her. When she goes back to her place, her husband realizes something is not right. He eventually confronts Hawkins which turns violent. Unfortunately for Hawkins, the visiting officer sees this fight and determines that Hawkins is not worthy being promoted to the rank of captain. Hawkins refuses to take this news. He plots a military mission involving take care of the local aboriginals with Ruse (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s Damon Herriman) and Jago (Harry Greenwood) to build up his resume and impress the brass. But before they go into the woods, they pay a visit to the Carroll family. The end result of the encounter leads to Clare swearing vengeance on the trio. She gets help from Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an aboriginal to cut through the wilderness to keep Hawkins from getting a promotion.
The Nightingale is a very intense drama. If you’re looking for a sweeping historical view of the early years of English settlement of Australia, this is not the movie. There’s no romance, rousing score or lavish views of the Outback. This a look back filled with blood, anger and ugliness. Every character is on the verge of snapping. Carrolls want their freedom. The soldiers want to get somewhere else. The Aboriginals are getting sick of the English taking away their land and killing them. It’s not a great film for the Australian tourism board. The Nightingale is a great film for viewers. Jennifer Kent wrote an amazing story that digs deep into the forces that took place when England colonized the land down under.
What’s quite startling is that Jennifer Kent shot the movie in 1.33:1 full frame like an older television production. The focus is completely on the actors as you can’t fall in love with the scenery. And the actors are up for the challenge. Aisling Franciosi runs the emotions as Clare goes from happy to the worst moment in any wife’s life. Sam Claflin is an utter bastard on the screen. He makes us know why he doesn’t deserve a promotion. Finally there’s Baykali Ganambarr who holds it all together as the native who is trying to be nice so he doesn’t end up shot like some many others who are sick of the English on their land. The Nightingale is the type of film that would have brought in a large crowd at the local art house. At the end, people would have quietly filed out the aisles emotionally drained by what wasn’t a happy visit to old Australia.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The use of the Academy aspect ratio is a bit startling at first since we’re so used to images filling the HDTV. But Jennifer Kent fills the frame just right. There’s such an intensity to the action. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 so you can get lost in the woods when she’s tracking down Hawkins. There’s also an audio description track so you can hear what they are doing if you have sight issues. The movie is subtitled in English and Spanish.
The Nightingale In Context (27:58) talks with the cast and crew about the movie. Actors were blown away by the script and swore it had to be based on a great Australian novel.
Making of The Nightingale (17:40) gets into how they made things authentic to the time and attitude of the film. Kent talks about wanting to shoot in 1.33:1 so that viewers didn’t get lost in lavish landscape shots.
Trailer (2:16) lets you know that trouble will want you.
Image Gallery (6:02) includes a series of portraits of the cast.
Shout! Factory presents The Nigntingale. Directed by: Jennifer Kent. Screenplay by: Jennifer Kent. Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 136 minutes. Released: February 4, 2020.
Tags: babadook, Jennifer Kent, Shout! Factory, The Nightingale