I wanted to love Nightingale unconditionally. We’ve written about one-man-show films here before, from Locke to Buried to Redford‘s All Is Lost to Altman‘s Secret Honor, and Nightingale certainly stands with those true one-man-shows rather than with, say, Cast Away or Gravity or 127 Hours or any other single-character flick that actually has a small supporting cast. Nightingale has no supporting cast, no strange premise wherein the hero is trapped underground or trapped on the high seas or trapped in space. Nightingale‘s Peter Snowden is trapped in his mind, and that’s scarier than any of the aforementioned scenarios.
David Oyelowo is the single actor in question here, and to say he delivers a great performance would be a pathetic understatement. Oyelowo is an absolute force of nature from the first frame of Nightingale to the last. The storyline is unsettling, sure, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but shorn of that Oyelowo’s performance is unsettling in and of itself for the sheer velocity of it all. Not only are Peter’s highs and lows very very high and very very low, but they’re backed up into each other and jumbled up in such a way that Peter switches like a lightbulb from on to off, from calm to manic, from contemplative to downright inconsolable. It’s impressive, but before that it’s incredibly disturbing.