Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wonderful Ensemble Acting in August: Osage County

Saw this film last night.  I haven't seen such a good film as this in a very long time.  Ensemble acting at it's zenith.  Like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" or "Carnage", this film comes from a highly successful Broadway play with huge accolades and Tony awards.  Tracy Letts' stage play was adapted to the screen with great skill. This film evokes the theatrical genius of Tennessee Williams in his "A Streetcar Named Desire" or "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof".  Meryl Streep is astounding, again, in another Oscar-worthy acting performance from the greatest living actress today. Julia Roberts, too, provides an Oscar-worthy performance and I expect she will get a "Best Supporting Actress" nomination for the Academy Awards this year.

I read Richard Roeper's review in my newspaper who gave it a rating of C- and criticized it as histrionic performance that overreaches.  Because of this review, my husband and I went to see the movie with somewhat low expectations but I knew I would see great acting from the all-star cast .

Film critic Roeper has so misrepresented this complex film.  This is same reviewer that gave Out of the Furnace an A+ rating praising it as the best film he has seen in 2013.  With his review, I watched Out of the Furnace with great anticipation and found it to be good but with great tension, violence and darkness of character that exhausted my sensibilities by the film's bloody ending.  I question film critic Roeper's ability to distinguish a great film when he sees it if he gives Out of the Furnace an A+ and August: Osage County a C-, especially on the basis of his criticism of heavy acting.  Roeper apparently understands little about the appeal of ensemble acting at it's very best. Films will have different audiences based on individual preferences of genre and subject matter.  But a critique of the acting in August: Osage County is pretty absurd as a reason to pan this film because all the actors gave extraordinary performances.

The film opens with Sam Shepard's portrayal of the alcoholic patriarch of a family in their endgame of distress and collapse, a man of once great  accomplishments in the field of poetry who quotes T.S. Eliot.  He even gives a copy of a T.S. Eliot book to a Native American woman (Johnna) he has just hired to look after him and his cancer-stricken, pill-popping wife (Violet played by Meryl Streep).  Johnna remains the one character that represents stability and grace throughout the movie. At the end of the film, Johnna is indeed reading the T.S. Eliot book and I immediately recalled T.S. Eliot's most famous quote: "...This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper". The family members all have their crosses to bear, their hidden secrets, their anguish and regrets on constant display. The result is a superb ensemble performance of comedy and tragedy.  Disturbing to the viewer, yes, but histrionic, no.  My husband and I talked for an hour about what we had just seen and I can tell you that's the first movie in a year to produce such engaging discourse.

We saw American Hustle recently and it is a good film with lots of Golden Globe nominations.  I liked it (this certainly seems to be a productive year for Christian Bale as well as for Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep), but I recommend you see this film, August: Osage County because it is as good as many of the films up for Best Picture this year.

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