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August (2008)

First Look Studios
DVD Released: 8/26/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/21/2008

I've written before about my hypocritical view on movie reviews: I write them and yet, I don't trust them. I typically avoid reading reviews (especially before I've written my own), as I don't want my opinion of the movie to be sullied in any way. However, tracking down other people's reactions to a movie is a different thing. When a movie makes you feel a certain way, it's not unusual to want to know if others had that experience. The independent film August left me with the impression that I hadn't understood the first thing about the movie. Judging from some comments that I've read on the Net, I'm not alone.

Josh Hartnett stars in August, which is set in 2001. He plays Tom, a young entrepreneur. As the film opens, Tom and his brother Joshua (Adam Scott) have just launched their company, Landshark, and their IPO is big news. The film then leaps ahead five months, following the problems with the stock and the bursting of the internet bubble which occurred that year. Tom CFO Dylan (Andre Royo) and his COO Melanie (Robin Tunney) inform him that their stock is now worthless, the SEC has frozen the company, and that they owe a lot of people a lot of money. They urge Tom to consider taking a buyout from another firm. But, Tom wonít hear of it. He and Joshua built Landshark from the ground up and he wants to remain in control. Joshua, who has a wife and a newborn child, doesnít agree with Tom on this. To complicate matters, Tomís old flame, Sarrah (Naomie Harris), is back in town. Tom feels that he has nowhere to turn and that the whole world is against him.

Do you remember that scene at the end of Trading Places where Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykoryd go to the commodities exchange, yell for five minutes, and suddenly theyíre rich? That scene, despite the fact that itís one of the most confusing in film history, makes far more sense than most of August. Director Austin Chick and Writer Howard A. Rodman have seemingly gone out of their way to make the movie as vague and frustrating as possible. We never learn exactly what Landshark does, other than the fact that itís tied to e-commerce. (Itís implied that the company has something to do with on-line advertising). Dozens of people work in Tomís office, but they mostly surf the net and eat Oreos. Tom mentions several times that he and Joshua started the company from scratch, but we donít learn much more about their past. (We do meet their parents, but this only helps a little.) The movie constantly reminds us that itís 2001 in the film (mostly through news items glimpsed on TV, such as the death of Aaliyah), but it never explores the world going on outside of Landsharkís walls.

From a thematic viewpoint, I can understand why the makers of August took this approach. The late 90s and early 00s were a time when tech stocks were soaring and companies, like Landshark, were popping up everywhere. These companies ate through a lot of capital and did very vague things. The makers of August could have been trying to recreate that feeling of watching someone make money, but having no idea what they were doing. Also, the lack of a detailed story forces the viewer to focus on the characters and the performances. This aspect works to an extent and we can see that Hartnett is asked to carry the film. He appears in nearly every scene and heís able to deftly mix Tomís cocky demeanor with the fact that his world is crumbling around him. Scott, sporting a beard, is also good as Tomís put-upon brother.

The frustrating thing about August is that there is a good movie hiding somewhere within it, but it refuses to come out. Again, the time period in which the film was set was a fascinating one where many young people suddenly got very rich either by creating technology or investing in it. If the movie had offered a more in-depth exploration of the lives and lifestyles of those people, then August could have been a fascinating film. As it is, we hear that Tom is wealthy and that heís lead a rags-to-riches life, but that idea is never explored. Other than a public appearance by Tom, we get no idea of what those on the outside think of Tom and companies like his. August had a lot of potential to be a fascinating look inside a tumultuous time in U.S. history. But, by taking what was, letís face it, an arty approach, the filmmakers have crafted a movie which offers fine acting, but is boring and lifeless. A stock ticker would provide more excitement and character development than this film.

August invests in DVD courtesy of First Look Studios. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing very little grain and no defects from the source material. However, the image is notably dark -- whether or not this was intentional is unknown, but there are very few bright scenes in the film. This is helped by the fact that the movie has very subdued color palette. The level of detail is acceptable, and I noted only slight video noise at times. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get some stereo effects from street and crowd noises, and musical cues put some sound in the rear speakers, but otherwise this quiet drama lives mostly in the center channel.

There are no extras on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long