Dr. Donna Copeland’s
August: Osage County is a rip roarin’ study of a family in Oklahoma that is perpetually on a tinderbox. The slightest disagreement can erupt into a major battle, and the only way they see to keep the lid on is to hide all their secrets. Of course, this is a strategy that always fails, but like the good neurotics they are, they keep using it, thinking it will work. As the story proceeds, we learn that the cruel parenting we witness stems from troubled childhoods, and we see it spread like an infection from parent to child across generations. As each secret is uncovered, it has an explosive effect on all involved.
On a more elegant note, the ensemble cast is a study in streamlined acting that continually hums along as if they had worked together for years and filled out every detail. At the center of the story—and the cast—is the consummate award-winning actress Meryl Streep, who plays the damaged matriarch in a family with three grown daughters who have come home to “comfort” their mother after a crisis. Her sister is present as well, with her husband and son in tow. Present as well is the recently hired cook/housekeeper who is a beacon of sanity in the dysfunctional, turbulent group.
The screenwriter Tracy Letts (Killer Joe) has based the script on his play with the same title, which premiered on Broadway in 2008. The transition from stage to screen is not always smooth, but Letts has achieved it without a hitch. Most of the action takes place in the family home, a beautifully landscaped colonial mansion in the countryside near a lake, or in the cars of the arriving family members. Clues about the underlying conflicts are seen from the beginning in the interactions between Violet (Streep) and her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard), followed by the arriving sister Mattie (Margo Martindale) and husband Charles (Chris Cooper) and each of the daughters’ families. In the process of the unfolding drama, the viewer experiences the trapped feeling that each of the characters suffers from; at one point, a character says to another who is running away, “Where are you going? There is no place to go!” And we feel trapped as well because the action is so powerful. Also because, in a larger sense, we identify with the fact that we are always a part of the family to which we belong; there is not ever, really, any escape.
John Wells, the director, has performed his function of creating a work of art from all the components of the film, with the actors and other crew, such as the cinematographer Adriano Goldman and musician Gustavo Santaolalla, whose work illuminates the ongoing drama.
Clearly August: Osage Country will be prominent in the upcoming award circuit soon to take place.
Meryl Streep Julia Roberts Chris Cooper Ewan McGregor
Margo Martindale Abigail Breslin Dermot Mulroney Julianne Nicholson
Juliette Lewis Bededict Cumberbatch Sam Shepard Misty Upham
Films like August: Osage County just do not come around very often, and an ensemble of this caliber is even more rare. Based on his play with the same title and this script by Tracey Letts (Bug, Killer Joe), August: Osage County is a film that exists completely in an over-the-top world totally rooted in Oklahoma dysfunction. For actors, this is the type of material they dream of acting out, chewing, gnawing, and as some have called it, devouring the words set before them. Whether you find this story obnoxious or abrasive, no one will dispute the range showcased by Streep and Roberts, who completely let loose physically and verbally. It does feel like a play, due to the length of some of the scenes, and the dinner scene in particular; but director John Wells never ever allows there to be a dull or still moment in the entire film.
Following the disappearance of Beverly Weston (Shepard), the entire Weston family is summoned home to support the family’s matriarch Violet (Streep) who, besides apparently now being a cruel widow, is also suffering from mouth cancer, which is ironic. Ivy (Nicholson) stayed in the rural plains of Oklahoma to look in on her parents, while sisters Barb (Roberts) and Karen (Lewis) got out and went on with their lives. “You will come home when your father is reported missing, but not when your mother is diagnosed with cancer”, Violet accuses Barb, whose hatred for her current situation will soon boil over into an unforgettable family reunion.
“Thank God we can’t tell the future; we would never get out of bed”, Barb says. This film takes a hard look at a family filled with such hate and anger towards one another that each and every one has pent up hostility just waiting to pour out. Casting Streep in this role is a thing of beauty, not restrained by any amount of subtlety or façade; she is allowed to completely act out this wildly destructive character all over the place, and she does. It’s a thing of cinematic beauty and celebration once again for her achievement as an actress. It’s the type of role that one must award, and if it weren’t for her very recent third Oscar, this would have been the role Streep won it for, and far more deservingly.
Wells (The Company Men) captures life in the boring and hot plains of Osage County, but nothing else rivals these actors and their performances on screen, and he keeps all the focus on them as they come and go in and out of the house, which is steaming with secrets and a lack of air conditioning. Hollywood in 2013, has answered the call for more dynamic female roles, and there is no film more reflective of that than this one.
Underappreciated actress Margo Martindale is also fantastic as Violet’s sister (although she has appeared alongside Streep many times). Oscar winner Chris Cooper is also a standout, but the entire film belongs to the animosity showcased between Roberts and Streep. Roberts once again raises the level of acting in this film, stepping outside her comfort zone and always reminding us that she isn’t just a name, but quite talented. It may not be a “southern film” but it feels and works like one. It’s an instant classic that will be remembered right alongside softer films like Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes.
Final Thought – A thing of rare, raw and total acting magnificence.
By: Dustin Chase