August: Osage County
Jean Doumanian Productions, US
Release UK: 24th January 2014
DIR John Wells
EXEC Celia D. Costas, Claire Rudnick Polstein
PROD George Clooney, Jean Doumanian, Grant Heslov, Steve Traxler, Harvey Weinstein
SCR Tracy Letts
DP Adriano Goldman
CAST Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale
If you enjoy watching family dysfunction on screen, then August: Osage County is heaven at your door step. This film offers incredible performances, flamboyant set-pieces and a story that certainly won’t leave you hungry. If you have the energy to sit back and absorb a powerful and fiery set of performances then this film is perfect for you, if you don’t, then the film is still perfect.
Adapted from the Tracy Letts play of the same name, August: Osage County is his third to reach the screen, following William Freidkin’s films Bug and Killer Joe. On the surface, it may seem like his most straightforward piece, however beneath it rests the most perverse and violent truths. The Weston clan are a family located in the heart of Osage County, situated in the northern territory of Oklahoma. They are a family who withhold a panorama of unfulfilled lives and who do the most unforgettable things to one another. They’ve all gone a bit mad, but for reasons that are surprisingly rational.
Meryl Streep plays Violet, the electrifying woman of the household; she has mouth cancer and takes rather too many pills of varying extremities. She is one of the greatest characters I can remember ever seeing on the screen or stage; I’ll never forget Streep’s fine performance of her either. One minute she’s wearing a frightening black wig and bulging sunglasses, the next she is cursing uncontrollably and at other times she is a sweet and affectionate mother. She is always at the centre of attention though and nothing ever slips by her, as she says repeatedly.
Following up this astounding performance is Julia Roberts’s first big appearance for some time. She plays a confused, concerned and aging woman who seems dumbfounded by her family (who isn’t?), but at the same time she is clearly petrified of turning into her mother. She looks perfect in the role, her beauty trembling away as her character has to harden to various circumstances. Other members of the cast include Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney and Margo Martindale; it truly is a stand of ovation.
John Wells directs the film, he is best known for having produced some small-screen spectacles such as ER, Shameless and The West Wing. Despite not being a natural feature film director per se, his achievement here is mightily impressive. The tricky task of adapting a stage play is creating a satisfactory boundary between not feeling stagebound and remaining cinematically expressive. Wells does this by maintaining an integral claustrophobia within the characters and setting without making it completely stagebound; one is reminded of Hitchcock’s brilliant achievement with Dial M for Murder. The film is also shot magnificently within a hazy half-lit house suggesting all the dark demeanours that have come and gone and the vast out-back of Osage County is exposed it its full glory. Wells has managed to make this film highly stylized; I couldn’t imagine a better cinematic treatment for this play.
So what is it that renders this film as a must see? For me, it is the characters captivating complexity and development throughout the script, the mighty fine performances and the generally striking production.
Watch the trailer below: