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The Savages

The Savages

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

SOME films feel too personal, especially if they’re born from tragedy or mental instability. The Savages, the latest from indie writer-director Tamara Jenkins, is a classic case in point given that it stems from both.

Inspired by memories of her own father’s dementia, it’s a sombre character study that seldom shirks the difficult issues while only occasionally injecting some offbeat humour into the mix.

But as notable as both the intentions and the performances are, it can be a dispiriting and somewhat depressing experience that will certainly feel a little too close to home for many viewers.

The film focuses on brother and sister Jon and Wendy (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) as they find themselves having to cope with the onset of their estranged father (Philip Bosco)‘s dementia.

The task is made harder by the feelings of resentment both share at their father’s lack of care for them during their formative years and by the fact that he’s now so far away in an Arizona-based retirement home.

As you would expect from a cast of this calibre, the performances are exemplary. Philip Seymour Hoffman completes a hat-trick of brilliant roles (following Charlie Wilson’s War and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead) as the scruffy, insular Jon, but Laura Linney easily matches him as the nervy and needy Wendy, who is struggling to make it as a playwright whilst having an affair with a married man.

It’s clear from the beginning that both have some growing up to do and their father’s illness provides them with the opportunity to do so.

Philip Bosco, as the father in question, delivers a warts-and-all performance that competently marries sympathy with the difficult nature of his past failings. When he’s asked to confront his own mortality in a restaurant, the response is heartbreaking. And Jenkins spares him very few indignities, right from the opening scene where he’s seen smearing excrement over his walls in protest at being told to flush after use.

It’s such moments, coupled with the largely downbeat tone, that contribute to the discomfort of watching the film as a whole and which mean that The Savages compares less favourably with recent parental illness-based films such as And When Did You Last See Your Father? It’s also much darker than the light trailer suggests.

Fans of Linney and Hoffman won’t be deterred from seeing it, especially since the film is generating some strong Oscar buzz, but as good as both leads are the film remains a difficult experience to really enjoy and should be approached with caution.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 54mins
UK DVD Release Date: May 26, 2008