August: Osage County
William Friedkin’s last two directorial efforts (Bug and Killer Joe) were Tracy Letts adaptations, and it’s a crying shame he didn't helm the film version of August: Osage County, the playwright’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner about a brood coming home to rally around a cancer-stricken, monstrous matriarch (a scenery-gorging Streep) when their father (Shepard) vanishes. Tensions and dark revelations naturally come to the fore.
While prone to acerbic verbal matches and twisted tangents like those other Letts films, though noticeably lacking on the fried food fellatio front, August still feels neutered for mass consumption even to one barely familiar with the source. Select sequences shine through here and there, as do some of the more subtle performances (Nicholson and Cooper), which render well-realised people rather than conflict generators; of the piece’s louder players, Roberts is admittedly strong as the oldest of the mistreated daughters, and Mulroney makes for an entertaining sleazebag.
Despite being shot on location, the film’s sense of place is almost non-existent, a crucial problem for a story in which the family property that has housed these generations of bitter fuck-ups of varying degrees is meant to be an evocative character in its own right. Even the barest of stage-bound productions would bring more palpable claustrophobia and conviction than John Wells’ flat direction, which serves to hinder the translation of what’s likely a much more cohesive, less overall numbing dramatic work in its original incarnation.