The Nightingale is an Australian film about a 19th century Irish convict woman hunting a pack of British soldiers across the wilds of Tasmania to avenge the death of her family. On the surface, that probably sounds like an interesting film, but I can't say I felt that way in viewing it. It is well-made, it is beautifully-filmed, it shows off the lush untouched environments in a way you'll probably never see in another film, but I can't say I particularly enjoyed watching it.
It's a movie about the nature of violence, trauma, and human suffering, particularly that doled out by the British Empire during its colonial period. The harsh realities of life for convicts and aboriginals is shown in all its gory detail, and, yet, it doesn't really feel like a film I could recommend. Its main character is uneven and unlikable. She waffles between submissiveness, defiance, anger, vengeance, fearfulness, independence, and a completely inability to do anything well, never applying the correct character trait at the right time in the film. This is obviously not a film meant to be enjoyed and, as such, I prepared myself for the fact that the ending would inevitably be unsatisfying as a revenge film, but I was looking at the runtime by an hour and a half in and realizing that, though I felt it should be ending, it still had 45 minutes left to go. It feels like the runtime is unnaturally extended just to abuse the characters further so as to make a point or make us feel something, but I didn't feel anything. Aside from aboriginal guide Billy, I really had no sympathy for any character in the film. And I can't say anything that happened in those final 45 minutes justified the experience.
The script isn't badly written, though it feels overly bloated by the end. The actors do a fantastic job delivering what they're asked and it obviously is a huge accomplishment for Australian cinema, but something can be important while being unenjoyable and dull. Obviously, I'm not referring to the violence and traumatic events. That's not something that would ever really detract from a film for me. It's that I often got bored by what was going on and just wanted a resolution for the story. The Nightingale didn't feel like it particularly respected my time. It wasn't a slog, but it is long and it is often uneventful, especially when you think things are going to take a turn.
If there's one thing about this film I have to complain about, it's the fact that it goes to that poisoned, shitty well of character dream sequences. I don't think I've ever had a dream in my life in the way most films present dreams and this film is no exception. Our lead's many dreams of her dead husband or the men she's killed come across poorly and only pad out the runtime without adding anything to the experience. It's just a bad, lazy trope that needs to be eliminated from film-making entirely.
So the character loses her vengeful spirit and we drift on towards a sad, quiet ending that isn't what you thought or hoped it would be.
I don't feel like I've said anything really about the film yet, but I don't feel like I have anything more to say. I wouldn't discourage anyone from watching it, but I have no reason to recommend it either. It feels like the perfect example of a well-crafted but ultimately unenjoyable, unmemorable experience.