One of several sneak previews not officially listed in the program, The Savages is, above all, a showcase for Philip Seymour Hoffman, a man who proves again and again that heÂs one of cinemaÂs most colossal talents. Few are as instinctively aware of an actorÂs need to remain loose and low to the ground, and here, his scruffy demeanor never betrays an ounce of falsehood. He mumbles, scratches, spits, and, when called upon, tears off just enough of the scenery to give himself additional heft. Not only has he never overacted, heÂs never appeared to act at all, inhabiting characters so fully as to be our generationÂs Brando. You can damn the film or ever the lines heÂs called upon to deliver, but heÂs never failed to speak them with clarity and conviction. Here, as Jon, Hoffman is as good as ever, and his expected brilliance is enough — though barely, IÂm afraid — to bring the movie above the passable. As a brother, a lover, and, most importantly, a son, he does more than roll off the clichÃ©s of a loveable loser; heÂs an island of truth even if heÂs not willing to live according to his judgments. HeÂs matched by Laura Linney as his sister Wendy, a rudderless mess of a thing who sleeps with a married neighbor, uses questionable grant money to keep alive a flagging career as a writer, and canÂt face the reality of putting her father in a nursing home. And while the prospect of watching yet another movie about kids and their aging parents didnÂt seem to be the order of the day, the film was rescued by its refusal to provide pat answers to lifeÂs unavoidable dilemmas.
While similar in theme to the more dramatic I Never Sang for My Father, it lacks that filmÂs unrelenting grimness, if only because it insists that there are in fact laughs to be found at the end of days. Sure, IÂm as likely to snicker at advanced dementia as the next person (especially when I hear on the news that one of them has wandered off half-naked), but I simply couldnÂt relate to the crisis of conscience this film portrayed. ThatÂs not a flaw in the movie, of course, but just once IÂd like to see two siblings greedily rub their hands together, drop dad in a den of madness, and count the days until the bag of bones expired, thereby releasing his remaining fortune. But a film is about what it is about, not what we wish it to be, and overall, thereÂs little to criticize, even if my reaction is somewhat tepid. Well-played, well-executed, and delightfully free of clutter, The Savages is one of the better films of this type, even if it could have tempered the proceedings with the darker hues it seemed to deserve. Perhaps it was simply a coincidence, but perhaps that black road was reached after all, as dear old dad breathed his last in Buffalo, New York, one of the few places on earth actually worse than a urine-soaked death house. Maybe here, maybe now, both Jon and Wendy will finally realize that only upon the death of oneÂs parents does true adulthood actually begin. Here, we can believe the springboard, even if theyÂll fight it with everything theyÂve got.