Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: August: Osage County

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
Director John Wells does a pretty decent job of adapting Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize- winning play "August: Osage County" for the big screen. And yet, both the film - and play - mostly just provide the opportunity for a showcase of solid acting, rather than getting to the bottom of anything.

In other words, the movie is a pretty intense look at a royally dysfunctional Oklahoma family, but their story doesn't necessarily unveil any deeper truths, other than that most families have their share of dark secrets - just, hopefully, not as dark as the ones on display here.

The film is a Who's Who of Oscar winners and character actors, including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin and Margo Martindale.

You won't be surprised to hear that Streep is pretty terrific as always. She portrays Violet Weston as a cunning manipulator who knows all the dirt on her various family members and is not afraid to air it. Streep's work here makes her character in "The Devil Wears Prada" seem downright lovable by comparison.

But it's Roberts who gives her finest performance in some time as Violet's oldest daughter, Barbara, who is in the midst of a separation from her philandering husband (McGregor) and has a precocious daughter (Breslin), who appears to respect neither of her parents.

And Nicholson is pretty solid as well as Ivy, the most emotionally frail of the three sisters - Lewis plays the third, Karen, a Floridian who is attempting to hold onto her youth by dating a showboat (Mulroney) who drives a sports car. Ivy is having a secret love affair with her cousin (Cumberbatch), but a secret involving their relationship threatens to cause further tension among the clan, who has gathered in the film to honor the family's late patriarch (Shepard).

So, "August" is a good film, if not a great one. Much of the film involves the various psychological, verbal and - on one occasion - physical sparring between the family members. It's entertaining to watch if not exactly illuminating. As a character drama, the film mostly delivers. And it provides one of the more memorable acting ensembles of recent memory.

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