The Savages (Fox Searchlight, R)

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film_savages_sm2.jpgThere's a real documentary feel to The Savages in which people are shown with their seemingly unscripted flaws and shortcomings, something that appears rapt with purity.





I don't adhere to the notion that great films should have great stories. I can recognize a great screenplay and clever dialogue when I see them, but if that's all you got, you can keep on walking. Tamara Jenkins has indisputably written a great screenplay for The Savages. Her characters are wonderfully realized, and her story is void of the foul sentimentality that would normally be associated with a film about a dying old man. In Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, she's also found two great actors to bring to life her characters. However, it's been nine years since Jenkins last hit the screen with her quirky, amusing Slums of Beverly Hills, and I can't say that whether you were waiting with baited breath for her follow-up or completely forgot she existed that The Savages has marked the comeback for the writer-director.

There's a point when watching the goings-on of The Savages where I wanted to applaud the film for being so unashamedly mundane. The Savages is not a film in which there's a necessity for character arc or personal awakening. Instead, the film follows, however dreary, the complex feelings of two siblings (Hoffman, Linney) who have to come to terms with the dementia of their cranky asshole of a father (Philip Bosco). Jenkins lights the film harshly and sets her tale in the mostly snowy, always grim landscape of the upper east coast. There's a real documentary feel to The Savages in which people are shown with their seemingly unscripted flaws and shortcomings, something that appears rapt with purity.

However, I couldn't help but want to tune out throughout the entirety of The Savages. It's dull to the point of tedium. It goes nearly beyond the point of poetry in simplicity to being about as revelatory and fascinating as watching someone else's home movies. With so much to praise about the film, it's hard to defend a stance, however unpopular, that The Savages probably isn't worth your time. Hoffman continues his streak of nuanced performances as polar opposite characters (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Charlie Wilson's War rounding up his hat-trick for the year), and I'm finally starting to see why critics adore Linney, a gifted actress whose performances have always impressed if not lingered. Jenkins, as stated earlier, should get accolades for her treatment of the subject matter, never allowing her characters or her audience stumble into sympathy for the dying father, and yet it would be a lie if I didn't admit to wanting to doze off the whole time. | Joe Bowman

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