‘Worth a watch’

Carl J. Bachus | writer

Film is an extremely flexible medium of storytelling. Some films can take the viewer on a sprawling journey of epic proportions; others are thematically-centered and intimate.
The film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” falls sweetly into the latter category, offering one of the year’s best exercises in cinematic character study.
“County” centers on the Weston clan, led by Bev (Sam Shepard) and Vi (Meryl Streep) a once lauded, alcoholic poet and his acerbic, cancer-addled wife. When Bev goes missing, the family gathers at its old Oklahoma home to investigate.
Tensions rise and familial ties begin to sever as each member of the family faces a similar decision: bear their cross or drop it and run like hell.
The screenplay, adapted by Letts herself, is sharp as a knife. It gives the characters their own storied introduction and cuts them down at every corner.
The actual plot is thin, allowing the individual family members and all of their dirty secrets to take center stage.
The small number of settings and actual story beats – a choice that would usually risk harming a film’s narrative – are actually welcome mainstays, given the film’s tendency to jump between character arcs as swiftly as it does.
The dialogue is at once witty and down-to-earth. The pacing is masterful. The film is pretty much comprised of about three actual beats; the rest is just conversations between characters.
That has every right to be boring as hell, but it ends up thoroughly engaging.
Everyone in the cast performs ably. Julia Roberts gives a particularly biting portrayal of Barb, the eldest daughter dealing with her tumultuous family, a snobby daughter and a crumbling marriage.
Julianne Nicholson and Benedict Cumberbatch are a delight as kissing cousins Ivy and Charles. Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale also play extremely well off one another as Uncle Charles and Mattie Fae.
However, the real powerhouse here is Streep. It’s easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding Streep’s ability to throw herself into any role, but all of the praise is extremely and obviously deserved.
Her Oscar nomination is seriously earned here as the matriarch of a decaying family watching her world fall apart as a result of her own bitterness and spite.
John Wells brings a warmth to the setting of “County” that contrasts the nastiness of its players in a way that makes you see the family’s descent into disarray as large as any epic tale of loss and defeat.
“August: Osage County” is a tremendous work. It’s funny and defeatist at the same time, but still works like a charm. It’s definitely worth a watch.

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