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TV Review: HBO’s 'Nightingale'

The one-man, one-set HBO movie stars Selma’s David Oyelowo as Peter Snowden, a war veteran unravelling psychologically. Nightingale, which premieres on HBO Friday at 9 p.m., is written by Frederick Mensch and directed by Elliott Lester. The following are reviews from TV critics around the web, compiled by B&C.

“This is an 83-minute film set in a single location with only one actor. There are no dream sequences, flashbacks or special effects. And within those confines, the star, David Oyelowo (Selma), is nothing less than amazing. Mr. Oyelowo gives a riveting, disorienting and suspenseful tour of an unraveling mind. The music and cinematography are artful, but the props are mundane: a coffee maker, a mirror, a laptop. Everything is in Mr. Oyelowo’s voice, face and body.”
Alessandra Stanley, The New York Times

“Actors tend to love such exercises, and Nightingale feels more like a fascinating monologue than it does a wholly realized film. Still, the combination of the auspices and watching Oyelowo dig into this tortured soul reeks of class, which is enough motivation to carve out a timeslot for a subscriber-based network that has the occasional luxury of narrowing its focus to the point where, in the servicing of talent relationships and the pursuit of accolades, it’s acceptable to be playing to a near-empty house.”
Brian Lowry,Variety

“The riveting part is [...] David Oyelowo’s (Selma) solo performance as a disturbed war veteran who is struggling mightily to keep it together, despite the fact he’s already failed to do so as the film begins. The difficulty is that as credible as Oyelowo is, the whole script feels like a writerly setup and you only believe it from time to time.”
David Wiegand,San Francisco Chronicle

“And as that fractured man, Oyelowo — so memorable in Selma and in a miniseries called Five Days — certainly holds the screen. I’m not sure, though, that he quite finds the right pitch as he negotiates the script’s over-the-top vision of his character. I didn’t know who Peter was when the movie ended, and I wasn’t sure Oyelowo knew, either.”
Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe

“HBO’s Nightingale, premiering this Friday night, is good but not great. The film is phenomenally acted, but rarely makes much use of the power of cinema, instead using a device associated more with theater—the one-set location, with a one-man cast.”
Sonia Saraiya, Salon

“The filmmakers fail to tread truly dangerous ground because they fail to empathize with their character, leeching Peter's blossoming madness of a sense of flesh-and-blood urgency. The result isn't so dissimilar to a dull dinner party with someone who routinely insists on how accomplished and interesting they are, telling you rather than showing.”
— Chuck Bowen, Slant Magazine

Nightingale rages on at times with no real direction. At others, it hits us over the head with pretentious symbolism. Oyelowo's inspired performance keeps it afloat.”
Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer