August: Osage County (15)
by John Wells
Starring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Benedict
Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard
From 25th January 2014
An all-star cast take on Tracey Letts screen adaption of her award winning
theatre play. Meryl Streep plays, Violet, an occasional witty, but mostly
twisted and angry woman with cancer of the mouth and, not literally, cancer
of the tongue, as she shifts high and low on dozens of prescribed and
other drugs. Her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) disappears after one such
poison-tongued episode in front of the new Native American live-in carer.
Violet is comforted by ‘the only daughter that cares’, Ivy
(Julianne Nicholson). Word spreads quickly of Beverley's disappearance
and the rest of the family start arriving. Number one is estranged daughter,
Barb (Julie Roberts), a match for Violet's cynicism and tongue. Beverly
is found dead in the lake. Then at the funeral third sister Karen (Juliette
Lewis), arrives, pretending it’s wonderful to see everyone, with
her new fiancée, a shiny bullshitter of a man.
Over the next few days the dysfunctional family, tied only together by
blood, are thrown together - three sisters, auntie, uncle, nephew and
niece - spending a few hellish days confronting loyalties, truths and
lies. August: Osage County is an intensive and explosive exploration of
a family that doesn’t work, as messed up lives, family ideals and
past bitterness collide. With Violet ruthlessly twisting the knife in
to almost everyone, and like a real family, love and care can easily turn
to anger and pain. It’s a sort of Hollywoodish version of Mike Leighs
‘Secret and Lies’, but with very little laughs, no happy ending,
and set in the baking hot Oklahoma desert.
I’d never heard of the play but Tracey Letts script is excellent.
Neverthless I found its all-star cast off-putting. Its was as though at
times I was watching one of those awful Hollywood awards nights as one
by one another star entered the stage. Having said that Streep and Roberts
drive the conflict within the script throughout the film.
Julie Roberts is excellent; I would even say award winning. Meryl Streep,
like her role as Thatcher, for me, lacked credibility, not because of
her acting but because I found it hard to not see her as anyone other
than Streep acting as a woman suffering cancer. But Roberts’s performance
was intelligent, skillful, and she perfectly portrayed the complexities
of a woman, trying desperately to not become her mother. She is strong,
no pushover but cares, and, at the same time, can’t wait to get
away from the pain of family life. Roberts, whose career it could be argued
has primarily been built on her good looks, shows that she can and does
pull out a full frontal, complex performance. Now nearing fifty years-of-age
Hollywood may be thinking of putting her in the film litter bin of history,
but she shows she has a talent that will keep her in the industry for
many years to come.
Another notable, yet quieter performance, comes from Chris Cooper as
Charlie, the brother- in- law of Violet. The rest of the cast could have
been played by lesser stars and would have saved the filmmakers a hell
of a lot of money. The film is good, moving and powerful in parts. Good
to see US cinema delivering films that are worth watching.