STUDIO: First Look Pictures
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
• Trailers for other First Look films
If you’re gonna buy a non-underground version of August, make it this one!
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Cast: Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott, Naomie Harris, Rip Torn, David Bowie.
Director: Austin Chick.
In Austin Chick’s follow up to 2002’s XX/XY, Tom (Hartnett), the young, silver tongued CEO of internet startup “LandShark”, uses an aggressive style and swagger to promote his business in pre-9/11 NYC. With the help of an army of lazy software developers, a sponge-solid business plan, and his tech savvy brother Joshua, Tom watches his stock price (and ego) soar to impossible heights, only to come crashing down with the rest of the cards in the house. A violent market readjustment sends Tom hurtling back to earth and into the jaws of a hungry, predatory mogul (David Bowie) who’s after the remnants of LandShark. In the midst of the disaster, Tom struggles to maintain relationships with his family and an old flame (Harris) with mixed results.
Bayou Billy? It’s nearly impossible.
Everyone knows that August is the worst month. There are no holidays, and it’s far too hot. The threat of school looms menacingly above the heads of schoolchildren, sapping the joys of the last days of summer. Jonathan Frakes was born in August, which effectively taints the month. In fact, no one of any worth has ever been born in August, especially the ones who write dumb comments or send me hate mail.
Unlike the month itself, though, Austin Chick’s stylish and slick August does more than a few things right. While the story isn’t earth shattering, it’s a lush and well made account of the last days of the startup empire, and might even be a little poignant to those of us who lived through it.
August looks stunning for a DTV release. Cinematographer Andrij Parekh’s deep browns, grays, and blacks saturate the cityscape, giving the film a rusted and dying feel. As evidenced by the first screencap, much of the film feels like it was filmed in Grand Theft Auto 4’s Bohan district. While there are no pimps or child-murdering alley weirdos in August, the protagonists of both properties share a common detachment that almost validates the wildly retarded comparison.
my name again, I’m gonna Stab Skewered.”
The story and characters are mostly sturdy and compelling, although there are a few weak points. Hartnett’s Tom relentlessly jargonizes about LandShark’s tech business, but we’re never told what the company actually does. Is it a real estate estimator like Zillow? Maybe it’s a Saturday Night Live sketch repository. Or maybe they just sell Fleshlights. Whatever it is that LandShark does, it certainly doesn’t need to be at the core of the drama, but by sidestepping it entirely, the company feels like a hollow plot widget to drive forward sexy conversations about IPOs and mergers.
Flimsy tech babble and market talk notwithstanding, August‘s characters still compel. At the forefront is the struggle between narcissistic Tom and his mousey but brilliant brother. They’re an archetypal brother business team, with the outspoken and charismatic Tom playing Walt Disney to Joshua’s Roy, and their character arcs form the spine of the film. Their story doesn’t end up surprising us too much, but it feels reasonably real and touching. David Bowie chills the air as the steely mogul “Ogilvy”, and Rip Torn has a great little turn as the endearing but cranky father who doesn’t quite understand what LandShark does. Hey, neither does the audience!
August perfectly captures the pre-9/11 bow tie craze.
If August has a major failing, it might be that Hartnett doesn’t do a very good job selling Tom as an empathetic character. For most of the film, Tom is a miserable asshole, and while we all know he’s headed for inevitable and humbling financial ruin, it’s still difficult to relate to him. That Hartnett is not always a stellar actor doesn’t help. It’s not enough to break the film, but it might prevent it from being great.
Nathan Larson’s original score works in August‘s favor. It’s a cold electronic soundscape that pulses and relaxes when it needs to, and fits the film nicely.
A genuine surprise, August is a beautifully made riches-to-rags parable with an icy stylishness and an earned (if clichéd) denouement.
There are handful of theatrical trailers for First Look products, but August is a bare bones release. The standard def video looks very nice in upscaled 1080i, and the audio is a sharp and powerful Dolby 3/2.1 mix. The box art wins points for subtlety.