If Brit actor David Oyelowo didn’t impress you as Martin Luther King, Jr., in last year’s Selma (and he definitely should have), then his tour-de-force turn in Nightingale, a wonderfully tense and disturbing made-for-HBO movie, should do the trick.
Like last year’s excellent Locke, it’s structured as a one-man show, in which Oyelowo, as a former soldier still living with his mother and working a dead-end retail job, snaps and commits a horrible act. He is the only person we actually see throughout, and we get to know him via his video blog and various phone conversations.
What we learn about him is that he’s in a bad state psychologically–possibly from his time in the military, possibly from before it–and is only getting worse. And as director Elliott Lester limits the setting to Oyelowo’s house (a few exterior scenes notwithstanding), we start to feel increasingly trapped as Oyelowo becomes ever more unhinged.
But unlike Locke, in which we watch Tom Hardy in a car for ninety minutes, Lester has a whole house to work with, so we get more visually than just Oyelowo gabbing in front of a computer screen for this film’s 83 minutes. Lester generates suspense from closed doors and gleans fascinating visual, and psychological, results from props as simple as a makeup mirror.
There’s also the overall dread we experience, every time his phone rings or there’s a knock at the door, that someone will impinge on Oyelowo’s increasingly insular world. Yes, he did an awful thing (before the film starts; there’s no actual gore aside from some blood on a pair of glasses), and it’s clear he needs help, but we still feel for him and his damaged soul.
Most of the credit for that obviously, and easily, goes Oyelowo. He conveys his character’s agitated state very convincingly, be it from bad days at work or constant phone calls from neighbors and relatives, but also shows us the man’s pain and longing, and even happiness, delusional though it may be. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 9/15/15