Sean Durkin directs Carrie Coon, Jude Law and Oona Roche in this Thatcher-era drama where a mother moves her family from the States to Surrey, begrudgingly chasing her spendthrift husband’s dream of making a billion dollar deal.
The urgency of a thriller, the haunting paranoia of a ghost story – this is a slice of prestige soap that constantly upends expectations. Martha Marcy May Marlene director Sean Durkin returns to the big screen after a decade and it was well worth the wait. He is a boldly intimate director, able to convey emotions and fears and frustrations in his characters without explicitly setting them to words. He favours backlit shots where characters features are draped in shadow, he isn’t scared of an unfocused detail or an unorthodox piece of framing. We are aware when watching this fractured dysfunctional family through his true auteur’s eye that we are getting right into their faces rather than the big picture. When we do see an establishing or wide shot, Eighties England is presented as a deserted and desolate place. The inhabitants of the drama might very well be the last people on Earth… or so caught up in their own disintegration that nobody else intrudes or matters. The acting is uniformly pitch perfect. Law leans into the seedier, untrustworthy side of his star persona. The treacle voiced scumbag in him has always been there but here the tarnish is truly glaring. It is a great piece of casting. Coon, however, is the standout. It proves fascinating that her drowning wife never is portrayed as perfect or the victim. That would be too easy. She has flaws, is lazy, late, almost embraces obsoletion by the end. Watching her rankle at Law’s repetitive bullshit or dance the night away in a room of strangers is the movie’s fireworks. Matthew Price’s costume design for her in particular is noteworthy, subtle and timeless but never fully rejecting the strangeness of Eighties design. The spot on New Wave soundtrack too is banger after banger, filtered through crackly radio stations and sound systems in other rooms. A family slowly rotting, an indictment of neoliberalism economics as a way to live your life, a dead horse being flogged in the most beautiful way possible. Abrasive movies for adults this well made don’t come along very often anymore. If you are a fan of Closer, Phantom Thread or American Beauty you’ll cherish this.
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