Before I even start to talk about John Wells‘ new film “August: Osage County,” I have to say I’ve never seen the stage play or read it by writer Tracy Letts. Following the screening, I felt it was important to disclose. An all-star cast is assembled, all which have individual moments to shine, which is surprising with a cast this size, and for the most part, the film succeeds on multiple levels. Sure to be divisive, “August: Osage County” is tenacious and beautifully constructed. Soulful and unafraid to show the gritty and ugly of the American family, Wells’ film is utterly compelling. A must-see for the awards season. An instant Oscar contender.
Following the story of the Weston family, strong-willed woman who have scattered to different parts of the country from their Oklahoma rural town. When a crisis arises in their family, they’re all reunited to face their demons and the drug-addicted woman who raised them.
From the top to the bottom, this film exists and succeeds by its performances. At the top of the heap and best in show is the stunning and beautiful Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts. Her turn as Barbara Weston is in the top three performances she’s ever delivered. Roberts dives into herself in a way we haven’t seen since “Erin Brockovich.” The narrative fully turns on her character and in the final half of the film, she pulls the train through to the station. I’m incredibly impressed with her work. Roberts is a revelation and reminds the world how good she really is. A sure-fire Oscar contender.
As Violet Weston, a role played by Deanna Dunagan on Broadway, there were high expectations to see what 3-time Academy Award Winner Meryl Streep would bring to the role. For the past few years, I’ve begged for Streep to “dirty it up” and play a role like this. A drug-addicted matriarch who a gutter mouth lets Streep give a fresh take on a character. Her performance is middle of the road for what Streep has delivered in her career. That can mean different things to different people. Middle of the road for Streep could be the best of any actor. I walked out of the theater feeling the same way I felt following the end credits of “Doubt.” Streep excels in many areas of acting, but I feel when it comes to stage adaptations to the big screen, Streep doesn’t live in the character as comfortably as she would in any other role. There are times that the role does go a bit over-the-top. That being said, Streep is still plenty great as she’s been in other roles as of late. She inhabits lots of Violet’s beats and mannerisms and gives dynamite exchanges with some of her co-stars. It’s a performance that will surely land her another Best Actress nomination.
Trying to pick any of the supporting characters to single out is like trying to pick your favorite child. Margo Martindale as Mattie Fae is ballsy and spunky and its good to see an actor of her caliber finally getting a chance to rip into a role like this. Her character reveals the film’s darkest secret which gives her an edge over some of her co-stars, which Wells directs masterfully with DP Adriano Goldman.
I could eat Benedict Cumberbatch up with a spoon. As “Little Charles,” he definitely has the narrative’s most sympathetic story but more importantly, in a film that is full of despicable people, he manages to pull the audience in to root for him, even when you know he’s doing something terribly wrong.
I’ve longed for Juliette Lewis to get back in Oscar’s graces following her nomination over twenty years ago in Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear.” Lewis is dynamic as we’ve seen her in the last few years, delivering her best turn yet as Karen. A true professional.
Ewan McGregor continues to elevate himself as one of our finest actors working today as Bill, Barbara’s estranged husband. As someone who is on the opposite side of the rational spectrum when compared the Weston ladies, McGregor stands out as a positive take. Unfortunately, he only gets one scene to really let loose in a memorable manner.
I can recall being floored by the work of Julianne Nicholson in the little indie that no one saw, “Flannel Pajamas” nearly seven years ago. I’ve never fully revisited her work since despite stints on “Conviction” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” As Ivy, the one sister that stayed behind, Nicholson embraces her natural and simplistic mannerisms that give her role a much-needed arc in the narrative. In a perfect world, we would be looking at Julianne Nicholson for serious Oscar consideration.
Brief but all too clear as perfection, Sam Shepard ignites his brief screen time as Beverly Weston, the patriarch of our family. Same could be said for Misty Upham as Johnna, our Native American housekeeper sitting as a silent observer. Abigail Breslin
I’ve long believed there’s an Oscar-winning performance that exists in Dermot Mulroney. He’s just in need of the right role at the right time. In a film that is darkly comical at times, he stands out with much of the lighter laughs of the picture as Steve.
Academy Award winner Chris Cooper shines when he takes on sensitive and accessible performances. With a tough exterior but a soft and loving emotional center, Cooper acts as a sentimental pillar to our tale. If there is room for a man in an Oscar lineup from a film dominated by women, he is likely it.
Director John Wells has a strong hold on the material. He understands where he wants the narrative to go, putting an emphasis on the story and letting any directorial styles take a backseat. It’s appreciated in a story that has so many moving parts. Writer Tracy Letts adapts his own play and in the second half really stretches out his legs as the story takes shape for certain characters. The first thirty minutes are rough. The dialogue isn’t as quick as snapping your finger. Some monologues run a little long and there are a pair of instances where I checked out of the story for a moment.
I can’t end this without citing the outstanding work of composer Gustavo Santaolalla who brings an impassioned and beautiful musical accompaniment in some of the film’s most extensive scenes.
The Weinstein Company have quite a gem on their hands. Lots of heart and laughs, “August: Osage County” has the year’s best cast ensembles and is one of the year’s best films. And yes, I got the “Julia” ending.
The film opens on Christmas Day.
Check out the trailer: