Wednesday, 12 February 2014

August: Osage County - A New Yardstick Against Which to Measure the Dysfunctional Family.

August: Osage Country is based upon the perverse comedy of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play with the same name. The play and film are set during the wake period of the Weston family patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) who has committed suicide and thus has brought all of the branches of his family back to their roots in Osage County. 

The Weston family are shown throughout the cinematic performance to be extremely disconnected and respectively have little drive or desire to connect with one another, except within circumstances out of their control, such as the death of Beverly Weston.  The unusual social dynamics between these family members culminate in the bittersweet post-funeral lunch scene which effectively showboats the total collapse of relations between this Oklahoma family. Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), the drug-addicted, malevolent matriarch resents each of her family members in various manners and utilises this luncheon to expose familial guises in her unhinged moment of "truth-telling".

Around the post-funeral lunch table seat Violet Weston, the three Weston daughters; Barb (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), Barb's estranged husband Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor) and their daughter (Abigail Breslin), Karen's fiancĂ© Steve Heidebrecht (Dermot Mulroney), Violet's sister Mattie Fae Aiken (Margo Martindale, her husband Charles Aiken (Chris Cooper) and their child (Benedict Cumberbatch); as well as the recently hired Native American caretaker/maid Johanna Monevata (Misty Upham). 

Violet arriving late to the table is seated at its head and demands that the men wear their dinner jackets despite the sweltering heat out of respect for the formality of the occasion. Once they have obeyed her command with childish embarrassment upon their faces, she delivers her poisonous wrath to each of her family members. The viewing audience is left in bewildered silence, unable to recover from the perniciousness of her savage tongue. Struggling with the effects of oral cancer, she manifests the natural toxicity of this cancerous treatment in her bloodthirsty verbal annihilation of her family.

The film unveils a number of important familial secrets and unapologetically portrays the raw family resentments and sentiments culminating in the appearance of taboo activities such as paedophilia, incest, adultery and addiction. August: Osage County is the dysfunctional family reunion from hell, not only due to the ailing matriarch and her viciousness but also due to the emergence of truths which have been quelled for many years. 

This cinematic depiction which its typical American setting delves into the dysfunctional family dynamic in a new way and effectively interrogates the complex intricacies at play in the inter-workings of the typical family unit. The film is captivating from beginning to end and hosts a feast of emotions. Definitely recommend, if only to be grateful that your mother is not half so actively evil as Violet Weston, or in fact her often referred to sadistic mother. 

The Butler: Tracking the African-American Civil Rights in a New Way.

  • The Butler (2013) loosely depicts the life events of Eugene Allen, who served as a butler at the White House for 34 years, between 1952 and 1986. This American history drama captures the living history of Cecil Gaines, who served as a butler under eight different presidents. The narrative focuses upon the difficult race relations between the whites and the blacks in the South, and this focal point is heightened through the fact that Cecil Gaines' eldest son Louis, becomes a political radical which provides a great amount of tension with the Gaines household.

    The film begins in with Cecil as a boy on a cotton plantation in Georgia where he witnesses his mother be raped and his father get shot. These poignant moments invoke the important thematic silence of African Americans in the face of their white American "owners" or "superiors". It is this topical silence which effectually infects the father-son relationship between Cecil and Louis Gaines, who adopts the typical Black Panther identity and ethos which favours violent retaliation to racial segregation and discrimination. 

    Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, and his wife, Gloria Gaines, played by Oprah Winfrey, illustrate a typical marriage with both love and hardships; and at one moment the archetypal soap opera extra-marital affair with the neighbour. They both act with proficiency and effectively convey emotion to their viewership. Alongside these two leading actors, the film is studded with various stars all of whom contribute to ensure that the production makes a large impact. 

    Whilst Louis Gaines is depicted throughout the cinematic enterprise as an active agent within the civil rights campaign, Cecil Gaines' refusal to become actively involved with the civil rights campaign is both respectable and infuriating. Gaines continues with his "keep quiet" mantra which he discovered during his early days as a humble hotel butler.

    Forest Whitaker is dramatically enriching within his portrayal of The Butler, particularly in light of the background of racial tensions and battle for civil rights. The film appropriately concludes rather too neatly on the precipice of a meeting between Cecil Gaines and the recently inaugurated black president, Barack Obama.   

    This cinematic production is a filled to the brim with various famous actors which adds to the dynamic of the film. However, with the coherence of Forest Whittaker and Oprah Winfrey throughout admirably making a powerful and understated impact. Overall, the film is thoroughly enjoyable and enriching in its suppressed emotional nature which pervades the entire performance.