August: Osage County (2013)
Directed by John Wells
Acting is at its absolute finest in “August: Osage County,” the 2013 film based on Tracy Letts’s 2007 Pulitzer- and Tony-winning dark comedy of the same name. But don’t expect a lot of laughs. Instead, buckle in for one of the most emotionally exhausting family dramas you’ll ever see on screen.
A family crisis in Osage County, Oklahoma brings together the sister (Margo Martindale) and three estranged daughters (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson) of Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) to Violet’s huge country home. Alongside a grandson, a granddaughter, a fiancé, and a couple of husbands, these strong-willed Weston women will argue out their differences while they confront issues that have been bothering them for years. Over a two-hour emotional journey, which rarely leaves Violet’s big estate, a cast full of talented actors and actresses will blow even their biggest fans away with their emotional power and depth.
Add to the cast Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, and Dermot Mulroney, and “August: Osage County” is equipped with easily one of the best ensembles of 2013. Each actor and actress works with the others to persuade you that their complex relationships actually exist. If realism has ever been presented so convincingly by Oscar-winners and other A-listers, I haven’t seen it. There’s beauty in reality, so the story never strays from the simple truths of real-life. Each terrific character (and, really, almost all of them are terrific) is developed in thorough and original ways. These are characters you can invest in emotionally, and you will. Even before the half-hour mark, the emotional power wielded by these stars becomes apparent. Streep gets me as close to tears as a scene of grieving ever has. She plays such a regular person that it’s difficult to see her for the18-times-Oscar-nominated acting juggernaut she really is. Benedict Cumberbatch and Ewan McGregor lose the accents to become plain ol’ country folk. Somehow they nail it. Julia Roberts reappears from the depths, giving what might be her best performance since “Erin Brockovich”…13 years ago. The entire cast is as close to perfection as you can get. What more can you expect from the casting directors of critically-acclaimed hits like “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Help,” and “Se7en”?
Nominated for a Writers Guild of America award for Best Adapted Screenplay, Letts’s script is driven by realistic, even low-brow, dialogue…but it’s not devoid of Whitman-esque profundities. A 15-minute dinner table conversation is not an easy task, but this script with this ensemble makes it seem like a walk in the park. Arguments tear open decade-old scars, leading to dramatic showings of hate or envy – but all of it seems completely legitimate. Chris Cooper gives me shivers when he opines about the nasty personality of his wife, who loudly criticizes their son. It’s a sad scene, but totally buyable.
“August: Osage County” is an American tragedy, not completely unlike those Greek ones you’ve probably read. Phenomenal performances from the lead roles (including Oscar-nominated turns by Streep and Roberts) trickle down into top-tier showings from those actors playing even minor characters (Breslin and Cumberbatch). A Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play adapts beautifully into a literary script that takes an ordinary family reunion and makes it a sermon of truths. Drama has never been quite so dramatic. “August: Osage County” is an emotional saga that needs to be seen. It’s one of the best films of 2013. Don’t wait like I did. See it now.