Entertainment Movies Movie Advisor: August: Osage County

Movie Advisor: August: Osage County

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Director: John Wells
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham
Duration: 121 mins
Rating: MA15+
Release Date: 1 January, 2014

Stephen A Russell says: In keeping with the claustrophobic intimacy of the stage show, director John Wells, executive producer of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, confines the majority of proceedings to the Weston’s dimly lit, dusty home, where furiously pill-popping matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) harangues her alcoholic, has-been poet husband Beverly (Sam Shepard). Theirs is not a happy marriage.

Shepard makes an impressive mark in a smaller role, with the exasperated Beverly hiring Native American Johnna (Misty Upham) to keep the house, and his crazed wife, under some semblance of control. Violet’s having none of it, with Streep’s arrival quite terrifying. Skeletally gaunt and crashing into walls, she’s clearly off chops on a cocktail of prescription drugs, chain-smoking a procession of fags she clutches like daggers.

Forget the mimicry of Phyllida Lloyd’s abysmal The Iron Lady, this powerhouse performance showcases Streep’s absolute command of the melodramatic material. The film hangs on her hatefully bitter spite, with Violet priding herself on her all-seeing eye, like a baleful Sauron atop Barad-dûr.

Beverly doesn’t hang around long, with his sudden disappearance summoning the extended family for Violet to prey on systematically, picking at the scabs of their personal insecurities. Julia Roberts all but steals the show in a career-high turn as supposedly prized eldest daughter Barbara, a fiercely intelligent but controlling mother to teenage dope smoker Jean (Abigail Breslin) and estranged wife to Ewan McGregor’s Bill. Barb appears to be creeping ever closer to becoming the mother she rejects.

Julianne Nicholson plays Ivy, the meeker middle daughter who stayed close to home but attempts to hide her closely guarded private life from her mother. Judging this understated role perfectly, Nicholson refuses to slip into sentimentality when an awkward romance surfaces. Juliette Lewis is also great fun as trashy youngest sister Karen, full of naive hope when she arrives in a hilarious muscle car with sleazy new fiancé, serial divorcee Steve (Dermot Mulroney), in tow.

Margo Martindale, as Violet’s scotch-swilling, call it like it is sister Mattie Fae, is a hoot in a film that, for the most part, is dominated by its female protagonists. Chris Cooper, as Mattie Fae’s mild-mannered husband Charles, is particularly protective of their gawky son Little Charles, played by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch a little lower key than his recent starring roles in Star Trek: Into Darkness and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

No one gets out of this unscathed, and August: Osage County captivates for every second of its two hours of spectacularly awful behaviour. Worth it for the battle of wills between Roberts and Streep alone, when the two finally come to blows, quite literally, it’s sheer cinematic gold, as is a certain fish dinner that descends into Irvine Welsh levels of enraged cursing. In truth, there’s not a weak link amongst this truly outstanding cast that sets the bar high for 2014 and signals Wells as a big screen director to watch out for.

Rotten Tomatoes says: 65% – “The sheer amount of acting going on in August: Osage County threatens to overwhelm, but when the actors involved are as talented as Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, it’s difficult to complain.”

The New York Times says: “Another way to think of August: Osage County is as a thespian cage match. It goes without saying that nobody can beat Ms. Streep at this game.”

David and Margaret say: David: “There are revelations and repercussions galore and on its chosen level the film delivers the goods – but the goods in question are rather over-cooked. Three and a half stars.” Margaret: “Two and a half stars.”

Entertainment Weekly says: “As verbal machine-gun theater, it’s marvelously sustained, but it also feels like a meticulously staged catharsis. It may be that the stage (where it was three and a half hours long) was a more perfect home for August: Osage County‘s orgy of sprawling but hermetic dysfunction.”

Review courtesy of The Lowdownunder