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When the whole economy goes belly up, everyone looks bad. To walk through the City of London in late 2008, for instance, was to see nothing but ashen faces, no one with the will to keep up appearances. When the meltdown is confined to one individual, their mask can take longer to slip. Witness The Nest, a teasing character study about a roguish trader that it would be easy to file alongside Margin Call, The Big Short and other cautionary tales of the market. Yes and no. Finance isn’t the problem here. It just attracts risky personalities — the same way some marriages do.
One half of this marriage is Rory (Jude Law) — British, a talker, in commodities. The other is Allison (Carrie Coon), a practical-minded trainer of horses. The story unfolds in the mid-1980s, the starting point upstate New York. It is literal morning in Reagan’s America, two new cars in the garage, the kids in great schools, a picture so perfect we realise it must be about to be trashed. Cue Rory, casually mentioning he wants to move the family to England. London is about to boom, he says. The Big Bang is imminent. Big money calls. What the film asks is what he thinks this call promises him.
So to the Home Counties. A spot trading job awaits. The spending has already begun. “How about this?” Law beams outside the vast 18th-century pile he rents for the brood, grin from here to Guildford. Led Zeppelin stayed once, he announces, and the place would have suited their liking for the occult. Between the hidden doorways and non-specific dread, the sense is that director Sean Durkin is hatching a horror movie. Yes and no once more. The supernatural is not the problem. The film is keen to wrongfoot you. Careful you don’t turn an ankle.
Durkin has different chills in mind. Those eerie creaks are faultlines in the marriage, the nag of overheads, Allison’s isolation once Rory starts work. In the Square Mile too, Britain and America uneasily align. On the brink of the 1986 Financial Services Act, Rory has the future mapped out, casting himself as a one-man shot of transatlantic adrenalin.
But the movie keeps to a strict slowburn. Such is the pace of disaster, after all — gradually then suddenly, as Hemingway had it. It lets us feel Rory’s impatience. He wants the frenzy of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. He ends up with canned lager on a commuter train. The film lets him stew, building the mood, accreting killer period detail. (George Graham’s Arsenal, Anthony Hopkins in King Lear at the National.) He brags to strangers about his non-existent Mayfair pied à terre. At lunch with his bosses, he picks up the tab. Of course. Phone bills can wait.
If Durkin also moves too slowly for you, the cast will still make this jagged film irresistible. Despite his ninnyish image, Law can be a fine actor. Here, his character flawed and cocksure, he proves exactly that. Coon is every bit as good, uprooted, deserted, finally raging. A scene-steal at a romantic dinner is worth the price of admission alone. Or you could let Rory pay — watching his smile freeze as he reaches for the cheque book.
In UK cinemas from August 27; in US cinemas now