A dark yet beautiful thriller bordering on horror.
Director: Jennifer Kent (The Babadook)
Cast: Aisling Francioso (Legends), Sam Claflin (My Cousin Rachel)
Runtime: 2 hr 16 min
By: John DeSando
You may think Carrie the most harrowing revenge film or Kill Bill, The Revenant, Thelma and Louise or scores of other get-back films, but none is as thematically layered as The Nightingale. But then, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s sophomore gothic effort has The Babadook for its predecessor, a detailed and layered thriller whose terror is more of the mind than this visceral revenge.
In 1825 Tasmania, Clare (Aisling Franciosi) witnesses the deaths of her husband and baby at the hands of a rapist officer, Hawkins (Sam Claflin) and his henchmen. With the help of an Aboriginal tracker, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), Clare goes after the murderers. As a heroine, she towers over Wonder Woman for grit and patience.
The raping done throughout represents a reality of the brutal British colonialism and a signal of women’s helplessness under nothing less than tyranny. Kent does not back away from the painful acts, which are necessary to damn the British and the men.
Put racism and genocide in that mix, and the revenge can be acceptable, welcome, but in the end ungratifying. What alleviates the grim circumstance is Franciosi’s Oscar-worthy performance, no Thelma-Louise glamor, jus raw and tender as you would expect her character, a former inmate who has faced unrelenting discrimination and virtual slavery.
As buddy films go, this is one of a kind where fondness grows slowly, after a long bout of white dominating black; romance is a long way away if ever. Both refugees have purposes that do cross at one point, but otherwise The Nightingale has a hint of screwball comedy, only a hint. However, the common cause Clare and Billy find is a long time coming.
Besides coming down hard on colonialism, The Nightingale is just as unrelenting about racism and sexism. The murders of indigenous males and females is as unremitting as the rapes, both so common that they lose power in the repetition. If that sounds a bit too much, Kent and the actors make you a believer in the ability of a work of art to highlight major mankind sins.
The Nightingale is a first-rate revenge thriller that manages to keep you engaged and sympathetic through expert writing, directing, and acting, with perfectly attuned cinematography. Stop along the way to enjoy Radek Ladczuk’s cinematography as it emphasizes the lovely landscape and the brutality.
Ultimately, you may agree we have one of the best movies of the year and a top contender for best revenge film of all time.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com