Director – Tamara Jenkins
Writer – Tamara Jenkins
Starring – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman, David Zayas
Everything about writer/director Tamara Jenkins’ film The Savages was destined to just work. There was nothing in the mix that suggested otherwise. And lo and behold the film more than works in pretty much every department.
Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman play a brother and sister who have to face the realities of family responsibility as they have to start caring for there ailing father.
There are many factors that contribute to how The Savages works so well. Probably the most notable factor is the performance by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Both give excellent performances, each standing out in their own brilliant way, in an equally excellent film.
Linney is perhaps the most believable in her role, although not knocking Hoffman in any way. She seems to put her all into her performance, really committing herself to do and portray some things than many actresses would refuse to do. Many times she is seen in a very unflattering light and I give her major credit for that alone. Any actor who is willing to throw the make-up to one side and show themselves looking anything less than their normally presentable selves I have much respect for. I have said for a long time that she is one of the best actresses, going on pure talent, working today. Even in bad movies she manages to shine and when an actor can accomplish that it is a sure-fire sign of talent.
Hoffman is equally impressive in the brotherly role, playing a downbeat character that we all know he can play perfectly. Regardless of the fact that we have seen this kind of thing from him before you have to give credit where credits due. His character seems to have his head screwed on a little tighter than his sisters, being the one who makes the difficult and logical decisions while Linney is the more sympathetic one. Both characters are realistically flawed, at times starkly contrasting each other which just makes it all the more believable.
As just mentioned with regards to the characters the other biggest strength of the film is how real and honest it feels. There isn’t a moment where you don’t believe what is happening on-screen, helped by the fact that extravagance is kept to a minimum and at the same time down-to-earth realism is turned way up. It’s rare that you get such brutal honesty that The Savages has to offer in films nowadays and when it comes along every now and then it’s wise to latch onto it.
Although not the biggest strength of the film the thing I think I admired most about it is the way it gets the audience feeling sympathetic while at the same time not forcing it. It doesn’t feel like you are being manipulated in any way but rather you are feeling the emotions completely on your own.
What I think makes The Savages ring true is all the little true-to-life things scattered throughout. Anyone with an elderly relative will find something to connect with in the film, whether it be trying to find a good nursing him or something smaller like helping them remember something. Everything in the film feels honest and wholly realistic in every way.
There is nothing I can think of it which sticks out as a weakness in the film. Perhaps the ending doesn’t fit as well as it could have with the rest of the film, and there are a couple of minor characters who don’t really seem needed but those are very minor complaints. They certainly don’t retract from your involvement in the film in any way.
The film has a brilliantly handled mix of drama and comedy. In every dramatic moment there is always an undercurrent of comedy and vice-versa. It sort of marries the two extremes in such a refreshing way regardless of the unoriginality of the concept itself.
So in the end the film is well written, with taut and witty dialogue, excellent performances and a well judged mix of drama and comedy. Unfortunately I think this film will go unseen by the masses, which is a real shame as, to put it quite plainly, The Savages is a real gem.