American alternative outfit Death Cab For Cutie put it best in their track 'Styrofoam Plates,' "just 'cause he's gone it doesn't change the fact, he was a bastard in life, thus a bastard in death, yeah!" Writer Tracey Letts' August: Osage County, based off of the play of the same name, brings the grieving Weston family together to mourn the loss of the family patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard). It's the catalyst for a veritable volcanic eruption of once dormant secrets, habits and the devastation could destroy the family.
Director John Wells has the luxury of two things; an amazingly rich script, tried and honed in the theatrical space (since 2007) and a cast that does not have a weak link. Wells' style is one of contrasts. The vast sweltering rural beauty of Middle America, rolling vales of wheat, bursts of green snaking alongside the river or veins of black tarmac slicing through the landscape surrounding the Weston farm house where the main stage is set. The generation of children has left that hard land must essentially step back in time to confront impact of the loss of their patriarch.
Letts wants to confine her characters, literally, within the bounds of the family home, forcing them to face each other and figuratively because the death in the family drags them all back into each other's orbit. Whether it's the deep poetic philosophising of Sam Shepard's Beverly to open up proceedings, or the relentless, venomous truth bombs from matriarch Meryl Streep's Violet, Letts lights the powder keg beneath the Weston family and locks you in to see whether they'll be able to diffuse it or lay waste to everything.
Streep's Violet is devoid of her natural softness and the shell of a woman that remains resembles a coffin nail. Streep can go everywhere with Violet; she's duplicitous, vulnerable, mean spirited, damaged, a liar, honest to a fault - she lives and breathes.
The truly impressive performance though came from Julia Roberts as Beverly and Violet's eldest daughter Barbara. This situation requires someone to take charge and their mother's state (emotional, physical and mental) means that she's the number one choice. It puts two of Hollywood's greatest female performers in the ring together and it's the cinematic equivalent of a 'super-fight.'
With such an amazing cast it's hard to do justice to all of their contributions. I'll briefly mention those that really stood out. Ewan McGregor's Bill (Barbara's estranged husband) is the kind of mid-life crisis character that you’d normally hate; but in his hands he’s battle hardened from life with Barbara and he’s desperate for life anew.
Margo Martindale's Mattie Fae is the chorus for Violet, chiming in and antagonising in every moment she's allowed. Her hen-pecked husband Charles is played with warmth and patience from Chris Cooper, against type.
Letts' script attracted actors of the highest calibre, Wells fostered brilliance from Streep and Roberts (and the whole cast really). It's not easy to watch a family implode but August: Osage County shows us that some families need to.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Director: John Wells
Written by: Tracy Letts (screenplay)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Misty Upham