★★★★★ | August Osage County

Violet Weston is one acid-tongue angry old lady who misses nothing that goes on in her family and she insures that none of her nearest and dearest escape her unbridled wrath. Well, her husband Beverley an alcoholic and rather melancholic poet does, but his method is quite extreme as he disappears out of the blue, and then the police locate his body after he has taken his own life.

His funeral is the reason that the entire dysfunctional family have turned up in this large rambling house set in the plains of Oklahoma in the fierce summer heat. Violet has cancer and uses a hideous black wig to hide the results of the chemo treatment, but it is also her cover to indulge in her drug addiction. In fact there is a rarely a moment in this drama when she isn’t popping both pills and cigarettes in her mouth, even at meal times.

Violet has three daughters. Barbara the eldest, and by far the angriest, who is accompanied by Bill her husband who she has just separated from after catching him with a younger woman, and by their very moody teenage daughter Jean. Ivy, the middle child, is the one that never moved away but is finally planning too once she tells the family that she is in love with her cousin ‘Little’ Charles. And the youngest and the empty headed one Karen shows up with a sleazy older man who she claims is her fiance.

During the funeral dinner all hell lets loose as Violet mercilessly lays into them be-littling each and every one of them. Full of histrionics and angry shouting Violet shows no ounce of mercy as she callously exposes nearly every single dirty little family secret that she has been bitterly harboring all these years. When she finally goes to far, Barbara physically hits back and after tussling with her mother, tells her that she will not put up this anymore or her drug addiction which she blames is the cause of all her aggression and hatred.

So by way of retribution the three siblings start to thoroughly search the house to confiscate all the drugs that Violet has secreted away. Turns out that she has been bamboozling a whole series of different doctors who unknown to each other have between them been prescribing her literally anything she wanted.

After this performance at dinner it seems unlikely that this family will ever get any peace from any resolution they can concoct even if they succeed in getting Violet ‘clean’. For some of them it is obviously going to get worse before it can even get better …. but it turns out that the only one who knew that was Violet, as she proved she had known all their dirty secrets all the time like she had claimed.

Adapted by Tracey Letts from her award-winning play this is one of those extraordinary wonderful dramas that include such perfect big showdown pieces that allow actors to give mesmerizing larger-than-life powerful performances. Meryl Streep is so completely electrifying as Violet as she plays her to the hilt in a role that frankly only she could have played. Completely hypnotic to watch, and if it doesn’t get her another Oscar, I’ll eat my hat.

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It’s not just Ms Streep who shines, because one of the impressive things of this ensemble piece there are several other meaty roles which were filled by striking array of a ‘A’ list actors. Barbara was played by Julia Roberts …. and it was great to see her back in a ‘heavier’ part again, and her siblings were played by Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson. Also in the cast were Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepherd, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Margo Martindale and even UK’S own Benedict Cumberbatch who never seems off our screens these days.

Despite all its darkness and its obsession with misery, their are some wonderful flashes of comedy too which occasionally lighten the tone considerably. Heads up to not just director John Wells for this stunning production, but also to cinematographer Adriano Goldman for the moody visuals that made the whole house in particular look so realistically inviting.

For me, movies do not get a lot better than this, and it proves that once in while the Hollywood system can still produce something that gives you that real buzz that is usually now only found in edgy indie films.


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August: Osage County Is Released in the UK on the 24th January


About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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