Tracy Letts first came on my radar after I watched the brilliant Killer Joe. I had no idea it was an adaptation of a play, and I was thoroughly impressed with the writing that I had to look further into the playwright’s career. Though I didn’t know much about August: Osage County going into it, just seeing Letts’ name attached had me excited. I then came across the cast: Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch and a bunch of big actors. I became concerned that this movie was going to be Oscar bait and, oh boy, is it ever.
Let me start with the one part that worked for me: Letts’ writing. The screenplay is bleak, smart and never lets up. Unfortunately, there’s not all that much action, and so we the audience is bombarded by speech after speech and fight after fight. And my are there fights! Everyone gets their shot to scream at the top of their lungs and say something awful about another family member. Secrets are revealed, trusts are broken and no one comes out looking particularly good.
I would’ve preferred to see the same material with a different set of actors. I know these actors are some of the best (or more likely, well known) of their respective generations, but everyone just tears into each scene with a big Best Actor/Actress halo seemingly attached to their heads. The one standout is Benedict Cumberbatch as little Charles, an incredibly sweet if not particularly intelligent man. He adds subtlety to a movie where it’s not easy to find.