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August: Osage County (15) - Sunday Herald view

If you like your family melodrama ripe and theatrical, complete with skeletons in the closet, monstrous matriarchs and damaged children ready to bite back, then Osage County is the place to be.

Tracy Letts adapts his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which concerns the gathering of an Oklahoma family on the disappearance of its patriarch. We briefly glimpse Beverly (Sam Shepherd) in the company of his wife Violet (Meryl Streep). And while it seems unfair to condemn a woman with cancer, it's not surprising when this chap - an ageing poet and drunk - finally jumps ship.

And so the couple's daughters and partners descend on the family pile: Barbara (Julia Roberts) and her cheating husband (Ewan McGregor), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who is secretly dating her sweet but dim-witted cousin (Benedict Cumberbatch, miles away from Sherlock) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) with her latest, brash boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney).

They're here to lend support to Violet, a pill-popping harridan who promptly throws it back in their face.

The centrepiece of the film - the tour-de-force that no doubt earned Streep her 17th Oscar nomination - involves a family dinner in which Violet spectacularly tears into everyone around her. As Beverly opined before he departed, it's an apt "punchline" that his wife's affliction should be mouth cancer.

It's directed by John Wells, still better known for ER than his movies, but more than able to helm a talky piece like this. The acting's the thing, from a terrific ensemble. The stand-out is not Streep, in fact, but Roberts, as the daughter who can feel herself becoming her mother. When Barbara rips into Violet at dinner, snarling that "I am running things now", one can't help cheering.

In a place where we are told parakeets are dying from the heat, Roberts and co ensure that the emotional temperature is just as hot.

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