August: Osage County (15)

Directed by John Wells
Starring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard
FACT, Liverpool
From 25th January 2014

Reviewed by Darren Guy

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.

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