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August: Osage County - Review

August: Osage County

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

A POWERHOUSE cast deliver suitably powerful performances in this enjoyable but sometimes overcooked family drama.

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning stage play by Tracy Letts (of Killer Joe fame) and directed by ER luminary John Wells (previously of The Company Men) and produced by George Clooney (among others) August is -as you might expect – an actor’s showcase.

But while most grand-stand in Oscar baiting fashion, there are some quieter performances to savour as well as a 25 minute dinner party highlight that delivers a genuine feast.

It’s just that the film as a whole doesn’t always measure up to the sum of its parts and may be too over-wrought for some tastes.

When family patriarch and poet Beverly Weston (a quietly impressive Sam Shepard) goes missing, presumed dead, the family members, (including sisters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) return home to support their cancer-stricken but viciously tongued, pill popping mother Violet (Meryl Streep). And as age-old tensions resurface between them, the stage is quickly set for recrimination and violent squabble.

Wells, for his part, keeps things suitably claustrophobic within the house but relishes the occasional opportunity to get some air amid the Plains where the film is set, offsetting scenes of natural beauty with the damaged lives of those who exist under it’s skies.

He also enables most of his cast to shine, with Streep and Roberts predictably getting the showiest moments and really going at it during the big set piece moment. There is a thrill to be had in seeing them dance around each other too, particularly given the vitriolic, nasty nature of Streep’s hateful mother (brilliantly realised) and the suppressed rage of Roberts’ Barbara.

But while notable, the main heart is to be found in Julianne Nicholson’s affectingly sweet portrayal of Ivy, whose secret romance with Benedict Cumberbatch’s awkward nephew is nicely realised and the only thing truly worth caring about.

Dermot Mulroney and Chris Cooper, meanwhile, bring some much needed comic relief but most of the male roles – and Ewan McGregor’s in particular – are very much side dishes to the main feast that feel under-nourished.

And it is, ultimately, the film’s lack of heart and its showier, more actorly tendencies that deprive it of a more lasting impression. You do feel throughout that this might work better had it been kept on the stage and is also a little too aware of its awards potential.

Viewers won’t be bored but August: Osage County seldom exhilarates or screws with your emotions as much as it should.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 130mins
UK Release Date: January 24, 2014