Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Streep, Ensemble Cast Shine As 'August' Scorches

In the new movie August; Osage County (directed by John Wells and scripted by playwright Tracy Letts) America's reigning First Lady of Film, Meryl Streep gives another astonishing performance.
In fact, Streep's performance is so complete and so authentic that when she first appears on screen you might just gasp - so startling is her appearance.
Streep plays Violet (Vi) Weston, the strong-willed, manipulative, seriously impaired and hopelessly flawed matriarch of a maddeningly dysfunctional Oklahoma family. Not since Bette Davis starred in the screen version of another great play (The Little Foxes) have we witnessed such a vengeful, conniving, dangerous heroine. Vi Weston is relentlessly abusive. She's a toxic wife, a vindictive mother, a jealous sister and a destructive aunt. And when the whole family comes together and Vi cuts loose, it's slash 'n burn time all the way.
But of course Vi is the victim of abuse herself. And she's also gravely ill - not just psychologically but physiologically as well. She suffering, that's for sure. But it's still hard to feel sorry for her.
Now, lest you think this movie is Streep's alone we want to tell you that this is the finest ensemble cast assembled among all the movies released in 2013. This is the movie that should have won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble Cast instead of American Hustle. Yes, American Hustle is probably a better movie (and the clear favorite to win the Oscar this year) but this is the best cast by far.
August: Osage County is hard to take. Vi Weston is raw; she's direct; she's calculating, deeply hurtful and chillingly realistic, if not downright grim.
So, if you go to see this movie you need to go for the acting.
And if you go for the acting, you won't be disappointed. Because the acting is breathtaking and the script is tight, frequently surprising and often funny.
As Barbara Weston (Vi's shrewdest, toughest daughter) Julia Roberts returns to the screen with a maturity and feistiness that shows us once again why smart is the ultimate sexy. As Barbara's wayward husband Bill, Ewan McGregor (one of our favorite actors) proves anew just how versatile he really is. As Vi's sister Mattie Fae, Margo Martindale is tough and vulnerable all at once. Juliette Lewis takes on the role of Vi's daughter Karen and shows us how a character that could have been a mere stereotype becomes three-dimensional in the hands of a perceptive thespian. Ditto, Dermot Mulroney (Where has he been all this time?) as Karen's lascivious boyfriend, Steve. And then there's the sensitive, tender young couple battered about amidst all this: Julianne Nicholson as Vi's daughter Ivy and the fast-rising Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles Aiken. If they don't touch your heart in some way, then you're in worse shape than the Tin Woodman in the Wizard of Oz. This whole ensemble is beautifully rounded out by Chris Cooper as Mattie Fae's husband, Charlie and another great American actor Sam Shepard as Vi's husband, Beverly.
Some people are calling August: Osage County a "women's picture" but that's a misnomer. Yes, these women are very strong and their characters do seem to dominate the story. But they're women of the plains. Their hardscrabble lives in the middle of nowhere have given them a shrewdness and sense of endurance that put them front and center. They're earthy, in more ways than one. These are powerful characters, to be sure. But just such women have been a vital part of our families and our nation since frontier days and even earlier than that.
This isn't a women's picture. This is a movie about family dynamics; about struggle and emotional heartache and the cycle of abuse. And it's a no-holds-barred, compelling story. In fact, it should have been nominated for best adapted screenplay.
Be that as it may.
We'll simply conclude by saying this is Hollywood moviemaking at its best - a triumph of acting and storytelling.

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