August: Osage County (M)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner23/01/2014

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 130 mins

Engaging, sharply written and occasionally darkly funny drama enlivened by some striking location work and a pair of Oscar-nominated performances from Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

What's it all about?
Directed by John Wells and adapted by Tracy Letts from his own 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play, August: Osage County is set in the plains of Oklahoma and stars Meryl Streep as pill-popping, cancer-stricken matriarch Violet Weston, whose husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) mysteriously disappears, causing her to summon her entire family to her home. This includes her three daughters – angry Barbara (Julia Roberts), flighty Karen (Juliette Lewis) and mousey Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) – her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), brother-in-law Charles (Chris Cooper) and their ineffectual son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), along with Barbara's estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), their rebellious daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) and Karen's latest boyfriend, Steve (Dermot Mulroney). With the family all assembled for dinner, it isn't long before fiery Violet starts ripping into everyone and a host of secrets, lies and resentments all come bubbling to the surface.

The Good
Deservedly Oscar-nominated Streep and Roberts are both excellent as Violet and Barbara – their interactions have a real spark to them, culminating in one of the best fight scenes of the year, not to mention the sight of Roberts yelling “Eat the fish, bitch!” The supporting cast are equally good with stand-out performances from Margo Martindale and Julianne Nicholson and strong work from Cooper, Breslin and Mulroney, though McGregor and Cumberbatch both seem a little uncomfortable and neither is particularly convincing.

Tracy Letts (whose previous plays Bug and Killer Joe have also been made into films) specialises in sweatily intense, dysfunctional drama with discernible dashes of both Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill; with that in mind, it's fair to say that August: Osage County doesn't disappoint, delivering enjoyably caustic dialogue with flashes of jet black humour. However, it's also genuinely moving and there's a powerful emotional undercurrent that often takes you by surprise, particularly in the interactions between the less showy characters, such as Ivy and Little Charles, whose story takes an unexpectedly tragic turn.

The Great
The film is beautifully shot, courtesy of Adriano Goldman's striking cinematography, which makes strong use of the authentically remote Oklahoma locations – a climactic sequence in a wind-swept wheatfield is particularly effective. In addition, there's a superb score from Gustavo Santaolalla, which adds considerably to the film's dusty atmosphere.

Worth seeing?
August: Osage County is an emotionally engaging and superbly written dysfunctional family drama that's worth seeing for the acting masterclass offered up by Streep and Roberts. Recommended.

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August: Osage County (M)
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Content updated: 27/01/2020 19:34

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