Weaving themes of colonialism and class into the broad strokes of a won’t-stop-can’t-stop revenge potboiler, the film marks a step forward for the Australian director in terms of ambition and scope. In execution, however, the songbird hits a few false notes.
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There’s something tragically resonant and singular in Kent’s vision of two marginalized characters—one black, the other a woman, both stripped of everything—finding common ground in their parallel trauma and resistance.
If The Nightingale doesn’t quite fulfill the high expectations for Kent’s sophomore feature, it still shows a director with a muscular handle on her craft, though in this case she could have used a script collaborator to address the weaknesses.
Kent’s elemental revenge tale attains a near-mythic grandeur over the course of its arduous, ravishing trek. Some stricter editing wouldn’t go amiss, particularly in a needlessly baggy, to-and-fro finale, but it’s a pretty magnificent mass of movie.
With all this evocative material available it’s unfortunate that Kent lavishes so much of the overgenerous runtime on repetitive and redundant plotting.
As the film drifts through dream sequences and diversions, the dramatic power of the chase fizzles in the damp of the woods.
There’s a terrific film in here somewhere, with upmarket echoes of the exploitation thriller tradition of the 70s, but it gets lost in overstatement and a surfeit of plot reversals.
It is as compelling and urgent as it is impossible to stomach.
Acclaimed filmmakers often face the challenge of big expectations on their second features, but Kent joins the ranks of sophomore filmmakers whose new movies expand on their debuts in startlingly ambitious ways.