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The Independent Critic

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco
Tamara Jenkins
Rated R
113 Mins.
Fox Searchlight
 "The Savages" Review 
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If the Academy were to award an Oscar for a performer's annual body of work, 2007 would unquestionably lead to Philip Seymour Hoffman's second Academy Award.

With two Golden Globe nominated performances, Lead Actor for this film and Supporting Actor for "Charlie Wilson's War," along with his highly praised performance in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," Hoffman continues to prove himself the "anti-Gooding" for consistently choosing a variety of film roles wisely and with equal regard for commercial prospects and artistic integrity. As masterful an actor as Hoffman is, he is equally as masterful at choosing the perfect film role.

In "The Savages," Hoffman plays plays Dr. Jon Savage, a professor of drama at a Buffalo, New York university largely riding the cusp of success. Jon is big brother to an equally on the cusp sister, Wendy (Laura Linney), a freelance writer whose plays are largely unproduced and whose grant applications are largely ignored.

The two of them are equally as dysfunctional in their romantic lives, Jon being commitment-phobic to the point of allowing his Poland-born girlfriend to leave the country when her visa expires after three years and Wendy having a longterm affair with a married man.

When their father (Philip Bosco) suddenly starts exhibiting dementia-type behaviors, the dysfunctional siblings are called into action to care for the father who, in reality, never really cared for them.

As written and directed by Tamara Jenkins ("The Slums of Beverly Hills"), "The Savages" is a pointed, honest and subtly tender film that is less funny yet more emotionally vulnerable than Jenkins' previous flick.

Critic James Berardinelli accurately observes that "The Savages" is being inaccurately described and marketed as a dark comedy. It is most definitely not a comedy, though there are certainly funny moments in the film. "The Savages" is a family drama that wisely recognizes that some of the situations in which we find ourselves are, in fact, quite funny.

It is difficult to imagine that "The Savages" won't feel familiar to many people, a disturbing fact that may limit its overall box-office potential. Americans, in general, tend to swarm their way towards escapist fare and leave such character-driven, real-life dramas far behind.

To do so, in this case, would be a grave mistake as "The Savages" features award-worthy performances from both Hoffman and Linney. Both performers seem to bring out the best in each other, Hoffman recalling his brilliant work in the underrated in "Love Liza" and Linney nearly escaping the shadow of her dreadful work in "Man of the Year."

Hoffman, in particular, is devastating to watch as he portrays a man who seemingly has insight into his own inner-demons but seems utterly powerless to change them. On a dime, Hoffman changes from an angry, cynical son and brother to the emotionally vulnerable young boy who wants desperately to form a human bond but is seemingly stuck in the pre-adolescent stage of development.

Likewise, however, this is Linney's best work in quite some time as a young woman who craves attachment with her brother and yet often sabotages it. Linney, who can at times cross the line into histrionics, plays Wendy as a remarkably subdued, almost detached, woman who sort of dances around human connection wryly and guardedly observing it. During those moments in the film when she does connect, most vividly on an airplane with her father and towards film's end with her brother, one can literally see Wendy come to life in Linney's eyes. It's a quiet, yet brilliant performance.

Bosco, as Lenny, does well in a more under-developed role, while Gbenga Akkinagbe (TV's "The Wire") has a nice turn as one of Lenny's attendants in the nursing home. Peter Friedman ("I'm Not There") does what he can as Wendy's married lover, though given the amount of screen time he has the role itself is considerably under-developed.

The film's production values are simple yet effective, while the song score companions the film nicely.

Much like "The Slums of Beverly Hills," "The Savages" seems destined to be a highly praised yet anemic at the box-office film with a much stronger life likely to be found once it hits home video.

It continues to astound me that such high quality work as "The Savages" will make less in its entire run than such average fare as "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" continues to make on a daily basis a couple weeks into its run.

Featuring award-worthy performances from leads Hoffman and Linney along with another outstanding script from writer/director Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages" is a film that deserves your attention and a family that may very well remind you of your own.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic