Tuesday, February 16, 2021

THE NIGHTINGALE (2018) (Second Sight Blu-ray Review)

Limited Edition (of 2000) Blu-ray

Label: Second Sight Films
Region Code: B
Rating: 18 Cert. 
Duration: 136 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.37:1)  
Director: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Michael Sheasby, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Baykali Ganambarr

Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent's follow-up to her feature film debut The Babadook (2014) is a period Australian western set in what is now known as Tasmania in the year 1825. Our wronged protaganist is an Irish convict named Clare Carroll (Aisling Franciosi, Game of Throneswho has been carrying out her sentence as a servant for a British armed forces detachment under the command of the Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin, Peaky Blinders). The corrupt Hawkins has taken a perverse liking to the young woman, nicknaming her "Nightingale" as he is fond of forcing her to sing a specific songs for his pleasure, as well as regularly raping the woman. Clare has served her sentence fully, and is married to a farmer named Aidan (Michael Sheasby, Hacksaw Ridge), with whom she has an infant son. Though she has served her sentence 
the controlling Hawkins refuses to sign the release that would free her from her servitude. This causes much tension for her husband, who is unaware of the sexual abuse, and has unsuccessfully lobbied Hawkins for her release. 

One night a drunken Aidan is unable to contain his disdain for the Lieutenant, confronting Hawkins at a bar over his refusal to free his wife from her wrongful servitude. This altercation erupts into a brawl that is witnessed by Hawkin's superiors officer, who finds this unbecoming conduct worrisome, resulting in Hawkins losing a in-the-pocket promotion that would have taken him out of his current backwater assignment for the more idyllic town of Launceston. 

Angered and looking to blow off some steam the drunken Hawkins shows up unannounced at the home of the Irish couple along with his loyal soldier minions, the despicable 
Sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman, Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood) and the weak-willed Ensign Jago (Harry Greenwood, The Dustwalker). The trio take pleasure in antagonizing the couple with Hawkins revealing to the husband that he has enjoyed the company of his wife many time. What results is a horrific series of events that leave Clare violated multiple times and left for dead, while both her husband and infant child are murdered. 

Immediately following the heinous attack Hawkins and his cohorts embark on foot to the the town of Launceston to plea for the promotionhiring an aboriginal guide named Charlie (Charlie Jampijinpa Brown) to guide them on the arduous four day journey over tough terrain. Clare having been raped, brutalized and left for dead survives and immediately reports the incident to the authorities. Realizing that no justice will be served through legitimate channels as she is a Irish convict she reluctantly teams-up with an aboriginal tracker named  Billy (Baykali Ganambarr, The Furnace) to track Hawkins and his men, hoping to catch up to them and exact her revenge upon the men who not only assaulted her, but who took away everything she ever loved in this life. 

The Nightingale is a very bleak watch fraught with horrific acts that will sink your heart, from the multiple rapes to inhuman treatment of the indigenous people by white colonial forces, it's a movie that will turn your stomach with it's unrelenting cruelty.
I thought it an interestingly choice not to paint Clare as a pure-hearted victim out to right a wrong. We feel sympathy for her as a horrifically wronged woman and cheer her on as she quests for vengeance against despicable characters, but Kent draws attention to the protagonists' own prejudices against the aboriginal tracker and the dark skinned indigenous people. 

This coupling are not revenger buddies, they loathe each other, but they are willing to look beyond their differences to achieve their goal. They do not see eye to eye, despite the fact that they are both people that have been trodden upon by colonial forces who see them both as less than human. Billy himself initially does not see beyond her white skin, to him she is just another colonial white person that has brought death, desecration and destruction to his people and their land, in his eyes there is no difference between the British oppressors and the Irish convict. There is a bond that grows between them though, initially a shared desire for revenge but then transforming into what seems to be a begrudging respect if not friendship. 

As the cultural odd-couple pursue Hawkins they begin to understand each other, both having their own reasons for wanting to kill the British soldiers who have wronged them so grievously. I found the scenes of Billy seeing his people so casually murdered, even decapitated, by colonial people deeply disturbing. As he and Clare begin to see beyond their differences he tells the tale of how he was ripped away from his family, who were then murdered by the same white people.  

Meanwhile Hawkins and his crew's journey is fraught with struggle, much of it of their own making. The Lieutenant takes on an orphaned boy during the trip whom he looks to mold in his own image, but disposes of quite despicably at some point. I could kind of see it coming but it was still shocking.  Along the way his men abduct an aboriginal woman, separate her from her child, and rape her, which leads to an attack from aboriginals seeking to free the woman from her captors. The attack leaves one soldier dead and another wounded quite badly. This misadventure allows for Clare to catch up with the wounded soldier, who turns out to be the one who murdered her baby, and have her violent revenge upon him. She turns savage during her attack, but interestingly, the experience sours her on seeking revenge on the other men, however, Billy has no such reservations, particularly after Hawkin's and his men murder someone close to him.

The film has a terrific setting in a particularly wet area of Tasmania with plenty of mountainous rain forest type geography,. The period clothing looked authentic and lived in to my eyes, and the acting from the entire cast is fantastic. The main cast all give multi-layered performances that deeply sell the far-reaching cruelties of white colonization as well as the emotional drive of this rape-revenger premise. The Nightingale is a sometimes difficult watch to endure, as these sort of films should be, but I found it mesmerizing, even at over two hours long it was an enthralling watch. There's no sophomore slump here my cinema-loving friends, this comes highly recommended.  

Audio/Video: The Nightingale (2018) arrives on region B locked Blu-ray from Second Sight Films presenting the film in 1080p HD and framed in 1.37:1 full frame, which is the original  intended aspect ratio. The image looks good, shot with a a soft light that appears natural, we get a lot of earthy browns, cold greys and the green of the Tasmanian wilds throughout, with some red coming by way of wounds and the well-worn red jackets of the British soldiers. The look of the film complements the suffering and sadness seen in the film and completely immerses you in the period. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with optional English subtitles. The track has a strong atmospheric presence with solid use of the surrounds, particularly during the scenes deep in the forest. Dialogue exchanges are focused and direct, and the score from Jed Kurzel (Overlord) is a truly wonderful score that sets a tone, time and place. 

Extras on the disc include over three and a half hours of interviews and making-of featurettes. We start off with a 24-min interview with actor Aisling Franciosi, a 22-min interview with actor Michael Sheasby, 16-min with actor Damon Herriman, 20-min with actor Harry Greenwood, 16-min with Producer Kristina Ceyton, 12-min with Editor Simon Njoo, 15-min with Production Designer Alexander Holmes, and 9-min with Composer Jed Kurzel. It's a nice assortment of interviews that gets into how the actors were cast, what it was like shooting the film, working with the other cast and crew, and challenges faced during filming. 

We also get a 19-min video essay ‘Bloody White People’ by Alexandra Heller, plus a pair of making-of featurettes totalling 46-min, containing interviews from writer/director Jennifer Kent, the principle cast, and the crew including the costume 
designer, stunt coordinator, hair and make-up designer, location manager, production designer, the producers, and the language consultant. It all paints a complete picture of the making of the film from the cast and crew, seemingly leaving no stone unturned. The last of the extras is a theatrical trailer for the film. 

Additionally Second Sight offer some fantastic packaging extras for this limited edition release, beginning with a handsome and sturdy rigid slipcase with new artwork by Laura Racero, which is replicated on the wrap. We also get a 40-page perfect-bound booklet with new writing by Elena Lazic and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. The essay from Lazic compares this rape-revenge entry to what has come before; I Spit On Your Grave, Ms. 45 and Revenge, and how it differs. Heller-Nicholas gives a recounting of the film's premiere at the Adelaide Films Festival, some background on Kent, and noting how the film address current issues of gender and race in a historical context. The booklet also contains cast and crew info, still from the film, and production photos and designs. There are also three postcard sized art cards. The single-disc release arrives in a black keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, featuring the new art from Laura Racero.

Special Features:
- She Will Not Be Silenced: an interview with Actor Aisling Franciosi (24 min) 
- Sometimes Trouble Finds You: an interview with Actor Michael Sheasby (22 min) 
- Just Making Light, Sir - Interview with Actor Damon Herriman (16 min) 
- I Surrender - Interview with Actor Harry Greenwood (20 min) 
- Taking Flight - Interview with Producer Kristina Ceyton (16 min) 
- Assembling Vengeance - Interview with Editor Simon Njoo (12 mins)
- Building Something Special - Interview with Production Designer Alexander Holmes (15 min) 
- Hear her Voice - Interview with Composer Jed Kurzel (9 min) 
- ‘Bloody White People’ - A Video Essay by Alexandra Heller Nicholas (19 min) 
- The Nightingale in Context (28 min) 
- The Making of The Nightingale (18 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Laura Racero
- 40-page perfect-bound booklet with new writing by Elena Lazic and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
- Three Collectors’ Art Cards

The Nightingale (2018) is a bleak Australian western/rape revenger with strong performances that drive home the suffering of the characters. It also has great production values that pull you in the period with rugged untouched Australian  locations and a world that feels authentic and lived in. If your looking for one of those nutshell comparisons I would say this is a revenger like I Spit On Your Grave (1978) meets Hannie Caulder (1971) by way of Mad Dog Morgan (1976). Second Sight Films knock it out of the park with the attractively packed limited edition Blu-ray release of The Nightingale (2018), the A/V presentation is top-notch and the over three and a half hours of extras was much appreciated. 

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: