Well, it was only a matter of time before I reviewed a film like this. There are certain types of movies that are simply excellent. The acting is fantastic. The story is gripping and engaging. The writing and direction are spot on. It is a piece of art that needed to be made. Yet, at the same time, the film is so horribly depressing and bleak that you don’t necessarily ever want to watch it again after you finish it. Schindler’s List or Leaving Las Vegas spring to mind. Well, 2007’s indie critical darling The Savages can now officially enter my pantheon of films that I know are absolutely fantastic but one or two viewings will easily be enough. This was an absolutely superb film, but it was so heavy that it will be a while before I shake off the emotional weight of the film.

The Savages tells the story of two siblings, Wendy (Laura Linney) and John (Philip Seymour Hoffman). John is a college professor in theatre and Wendy is a struggling playwright. As children, they were viciously abused by their father Leonard (Philip Bosco) and later abandoned by their mother. As adults, their father’s live-in girlfriend dies, and it becomes the children’s responsibility to see that their father is taken care of because he has developed rather severe dementia. Did I mention that the movie also attempts to be a pitch black comedy in the vein of Sideways but only, infinitely, infinitely darker? Is it also incredibly strange that the film succeeds quite well in that respect? At the heart of the film, it is a story of the relationship between two siblings who have grown very distant and are brought back together to care for a father that never cared for them.

Laura Linney has always been to me the under-appreciated successor to Meryl Streep. She is one of the finest female actors of her age, and this is easily her best role since Kinsey. As the drug-abusing, chronic lying, home wrecking failed artist, she has never had to play a role as complex as this one, and yet she manages to infuse the character with genuine likeability despite all of the neuroses. The same can be said for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Ever since Boogie Nights, everyone knew he had genuine dramatic acting chops (even if he chose to fill his career with silly comedic roles like Along Came Polly), although it took his brilliant work in Capote to finally get the recognition he deserved. I am honestly more impressed with his performance in this film than I was in Capote because here he is playing a fictional character without all of Truman Capote’s well documented mannerisms and styles to copy and ape. There is a scene in the parking lot with Laura Linney where he calls her out for all of the bull shit fantasy of the nursing home business that is probably the most finely acted scene of his career. Hell, even Philip Bosco is fantastic as the father who doesn’t really know where he is or what’s going but who can still explode into a fit of rage when the scene calls for it.

If this film weren’t so unbelievably depressing 85% of this time, I would have in all likelihood labeled this a dramedy because there are some moments in the film that are genuinely hilarious. Much like a good Wes Anderson or Alexander Payne film, the movie manages to find humor in the awkwardness and anxiety of life. One particularly hilarious scene has the Savage children throwing a classic movie night at their father’s nursing home to help spark his memory, but they chose The Jazz Singer and managed to piss off the mostly black nursing staff. Or when John injures his neck playing tennis with his sister and they have an awkward family conversation while he’s strapped into a strange device to help heal his neck.

This movie manages to avoid any and all possibility of trite or cliched emotion and sentimental is without a doubt the last word that I would use to describe it. It’s an indie drama that falls true to the important creed of not letting you get away with cheap, happy endings. Yet, because it avoids such common pitfalls, the emotion and drama is so heart-breakingly real. If I were to use one word to describe the movie, it would be heart-breaking and that sentiment stays throughout the whole picture. This movie was great, however, it will be a good long while before I put myself through the emotional ordeal of watching it again. However, I do recommend that all those who love movies take the time to check this one out.

Final Score: A-

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