SAVAGES, THE (2007)
Struggling New York playwright Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) and her Buffalo-based college drama professor brother Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) have been estranged from their father for many years when they are summoned to his ailing bedside. Suffering dementia, Lenny (Philip Bosco) is now on his own after the death of his long time live-in de facto, whose family want him out of the house. Confronted by the need to handle their father's declining days, they are squeezed together in the uncomfortable territory of caring for a once domineering father, facing mortality, their own conflicted relationship and their unsatisfactory personal lives.
Review by Louise Keller:
This searing drama is about the emotional baggage that begins to unravel when the ramification of family responsibility, old age and mortality confront. 'It's like we're in orange,' says Laura Linney's Wendy to Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jon, as they head to Arizona to meet up with their estranged elderly father. 'When we're in red, we're in trouble,' Jon concurs, but little do they realise, these siblings have been living in the shadow of red for a long time. Tamara Jenkins's film tackles the difficult subject of facing up to an ageing parent's mental and physical demise with overt sensitivity but no punches are spared. While Philip Bosco's demented Lenny Savage may be the story's catalyst, the film is not really about him. It's about the two damaged siblings who are conscripted into emotional purgatory as old wounds are reopened, life freezes in limbo and the future seems terrifyingly nebulous.
The Savages boasts two great performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney (Academy Award nominated), who make every second of this often confronting work a riveting experience. Linney morphs into the insecure, unsuccessful playwright burdened by 'guilt care' for the father who never cared for them, and I simply marvel at Hoffman as the academic whose life is as big of a mess as is his apartment. With minimalist expression and delivery, Hoffman moved me to tears several times.
There are clumsy confrontations with strangers, and awkward discussions about comas, life support and funeral arrangements in public places. It's tough seeing the day to day reality facing the elderly no longer able to care for themselves. Jenkins has constructed her screenplay cleverly, and I especially like the use of music to enhance our emotional journey. Away from the current reality of Lenny's confinement, we dip in and out of Wendy and Jon's personal lives, but it's the bonds and distances in their relationships that scar deepest. The Savages is a hard-hitting drama about relationships, death, family unity and coming to terms with the jungle from which we come.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Anyone who is facing ageing, ailing parents will find The Savages a fairly sobering film, confronting the day to day problems of nursing homes and the emotional upheavals of facing mortality through a debilitating process of old, degenerative-ridden age. Not the sort of film to see if you need an uplifting story but a valid and well observed work all the same. Above all, the film stands out for its searing performances from Laura Linney as the 39 year old spinster daughter with a married man her only partner, and feeble Government grants her lifeline to financial survival.
Philip Seymour Hoffman strikes a terrific balance between his work as an academic in slightly obscure theatre (well, Brecht) and his genial front as the brother and son who knows his duty despite nursing the hurt of a thousand nights of paternal pain.
Award winning Philip Bosco (so memorable as the big corporate boss in Working Girl who tells Sigourney Weaver to "get her bony ass out of here") has the difficult role of Lenny, ageing fast, failing fast. He does it remarkably well and without cliché.
Also notable in a small but haunting role is Nigerian actor Gbenga Akinnagbe as a nursing home orderly who makes a connection with Wendy. Their big scene is one of the film's highlights.
For all that, the screenplay is flawed and incomplete in some of its story and character elements as it tries to fill out the main plot with its subtexts. The story tells of siblings re-connecting with their father and each other at the behest of the grim reaper. Along the way, we discover two people whose lives are not all that wonderful, who manage to find a way forward after the death of the father. His death was their catharsis; but it's a little simplistic as the basis for the story, and it shows in several patches where the film falters and slows. But Tamara Jenkins has a clear grasp of the nuances and details of her characters, and makes the most of those to give us satisfying drama.
Excellent score by Stephen Trask also helps, as does the suitably harsh imagery of cinematographer Mott Hupfel.
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SAVAGES, THE (M)
CAST: Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman, David Zayas, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Cara SeymourTonya Patano, Guy Boyd
PRODUCER: Anne Carey, Ted Hope, Erica Westheimer
DIRECTOR: Tamara Jenkins
SCRIPT: Tamara Jenkins
CINEMATOGRAPHER: W. Mott Hupfel III
EDITOR: Brian A. Kates
MUSIC: Stephen Trask
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jane Ann Stewart
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 17, 2008