Harrowing Australian Revenge Thriller

A contrived and relentlessly bleak revenge fantasy, set against the backdrop of early British colonization in Tasmania, offers an agenda-driven vision by director/writer Jennifer Kent. The Nightingale includes needlessly explicit rape scenes and graphic violence as it deconstructs the British conflict with Australia’s native Aboriginal population. What begins as a brutal period piece exploring the sordid tale of a dastardly British military officer, mindlessly devolves into a grinding epic of a wronged woman making a perilous journey for revenge.

A tour de force performance by actress Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones) is largely wasted. Playing an Irish convict living through a hellish ordeal, it’s a gutsy and gritty showcase. Running nearly two hours and twenty minutes, The Nightingale is masterfully produced with top-notch production values but ultimately indulges its bleak portrayal a bridge too far. Made as award bait with its themes of unchecked racism during formative Australian history, its primary villain is an extremely one-dimensional character.

… by the end you’ll realize Jennifer Kent’s vision of this period in Australian history is extremely shallow

The second film by writer/director Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), The Nightingale follows Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict living as an indentured servant with a beautiful singing voice. Set during the British colonization of Australia in the 1820s, Clare is serving out her time under Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin).

Exploiting his power over her, Hawkins has been taking liberties with Clare and refusing her right to leave with her husband and young baby. It’s a terrible situation that goes from awful to hopeless when Hawkins loses his military promotion, due to his superiors finding out about his moral indiscretions and generally awful behavior.

What follows is a seemingly endless trip through Australia’s untamed bush as Clare hunts down Hawkins against all odds, aided by a native Aboriginal tracker who develops an uneasy kinship with her. It’s a female-driven revenge fantasy about a woman with nothing to lose. Bleak and emotionally numbing, characters are propelled by the plot without much thought. There are some undeniably powerful and compelling moments, pulled off more by sheer acting than the actual script.

The Nightingale is one of those movies that will receive critical acclaim without a close examination, made for a tiny audience. The shame is that the production is beautifully staged and the cast superb. But it drags, becoming repetitive and then stupid as characters become unthinking caricatures. Hitting the same note over and over again, by the end you’ll realize Jennifer Kent’s vision of this period in Australian history is extremely shallow.

Video

Unusual for a new movie, The Nightingale is presented in a fully realized 1.37:1 aspect ratio that replicates its theatrical exhibition. The stark landscape of Australia looks nice enough with decent definition and fine clarity in HD.

The dark palette opens up once Clare lands in the bush. Shout Factory’s AVC encode has a few small issues, primarily banding. The main feature runs 136 minutes on a BD-50 and receives generous compression parameters. Eschewing dramatic color grading, the period piece has cold tones with neutral flesh-tones.

There are no technical issues with the film transfer. The lack of processing is welcome. The clean presentation doesn’t jump off the screen with depth and dimensionality, despite intricate cinematography. Video is sharp without the extra texture and presence of the best, new productions.

Audio

The Nightingale’s 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio delivers crisply recorded dialogue in wide dynamics. Clare’s sweet singing voice is a prominent and recurring element in several pivotal scenes, heard in pristine fidelity.

Alternating between loud and abrasive, then quiet and docile, the soundtrack is a great example of sonic contrasts. The score is quite subdued in tone, believing less is more. Gun shots ring out in clarity, making an authentic impact. LFE response is solid without becoming overbearing.

Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles play in a white font. Forced subtitles play for the Gaelic and Aboriginal dialogue. A secondary stereo track is included in 2.0 DTS-HD MA, largely replicating the surround audio with less immersion and a smaller soundstage. An English Audio Descriptive soundtrack is in 2.0 Dolby Digital.

Extras

Distributed by Shout Factory for IFC Films, The Nightingale arrives with a slipcover. A couple of meaty featurettes interview most of the cast and crew, including director Jennifer Kent. Having already received a Region B-locked BD in Australia, Shout’s disc is locked to Region A for North America.

The Nightingale In Context (27:58 in HD) – Interviews with writer/director Jennifer Kent and most of the principle cast discuss the film’s themes and historical authenticity. Actors Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman and other leads talk about shooting the emotionally disturbing scenes. A well-cut mini-documentary with a good grasp of the movie’s overall themes.

Making of The Nightingale (17:40 in HD) – A featurette more heavily focused on the movie’s crew and what it took to make the period setting come alive on screen. Costume design, set design and other production factors are discussed by crew members.

The Nightingale Trailer (02:16 in HD)

Image Gallery (06:02 in HD) – An extensive array of still shots from the production that play without user input.

Midnight Films Trailers (06:50 in HD) – Playing before the main menu, trailers for Radioflash, Greener Grass, and The House That Jack Built run in order.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Nightingale
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Movie

An emotionally numbing examination of British colonization that goes over the top with a fantastical revenge scenario. Well-made but ultimately unfulfilling.

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3 (1 vote)

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