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August Rush (2007)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/11/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/5/2005

You don't have to be a part-time internet DVD critic to know that there aren't many original movie ideas floating around out there. Simply glide through the aisles of your local video store and you'll feel as if you're seeing the same DVD box over and over again. (Granted, if the shelves aren't properly maintained, you my be seeing the same DVD over and over again.) However, we do occasionally get a movie which takes a number of old ideas and blends them together into a concoction which feels original. Such is the case with August Rush, a film which show how people's passions drive them forward.

August Rush introduces us to Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) are both musicians living in New York City. Lyla is a cellist with the New York Symphony Orchestra and Louis is in a rock band with his brother. They meet at a party and spend one night together. When Lyla learns that she is pregnant, she leaves the city. Following these events, both Louis and Lyla give up playing music. Later, she is involved in an accident and her father, Thomas Novacek (William Sadler), tells her that she lost the baby, when in fact, he put it up for adoption.

The story then leaps ahead 11 years. That child has grown to be Evan (Freddie Highmore), an awkward boy who lives in an orphanage. Due to the fact that he often daydreams, he's ostracized by the other boys. In fact, Evan is actually listening to the music which he hears in everyday objects and motions all around him. They also don't like the fact that Evan insists that his birth parents still want him. Richard Jeffries (Terence Howard), a new social worker assigned to the orphanage takes a liking to Evan and is nice to him. Evan runs away from the orphanage and flees to New York City, in hopes of finding his parents, and seeing Jeffries again. When he loses Jeffries' card, Evan befriends a young street musician named Arthur (Leon Thomas III). We soon learn that Arthur is part of a group of street performers who all answer to Wizard (Robin Williams). Wizard is excited when he sees the raw musical talent in Evan.

Meanwhile, Louis is living in San Francisco and working in business. When he runs into a member of his old band, it makes him think of Lyla and he heads to New York (sort of) to find her. Lyla learns the truth about her baby just as she's leaving for New York to do a special performance with the Orchestra. A shared love of music brought Louis and Lyla together in the first place. Can it reunite this family in a city of millions?

I don't know if I've ever written a three-paragraph synopsis before. And while it probably feels like I described the whole movie and gave away most of the story, the above piece only covers the first half of the film! Yes, there is a lot of story in August Rush, but it all seems to gel (mostly).

The movie contains what are essentially two divergent story lines, and yet it's able to juggle both of them. We have the story of two long lost lovers who suddenly feel a need to reconnect. Then, we also have the story of the talented orphan attempting to find his way in the big city. (This plot owes a great deal to Oliver Twist.) Simply throw in the fact that the orphan is actually the child that the couple doesn't know they have (had?) and you've got the makings of a multi-tiered drama. This part of the film is overseen by Director Kirsten Sheridan, who was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing In America with her father. As with that film (which has got to be one of the most depressing movies ever made), August Rush deals with people living in New York City who are simply trying to follow her dream. The scenes where Evan is living with Wizard's group definitely have a feel which is reminiscent of In America. (Did I mention the depressing aspect of that movie?)

The story of the three separated characters would have (supposedly) been enough to sustain a movie. But, August Rush adds another layer which involves music. All of the main characters in the film are driven by their love of music, and we also see how they turn away from music in times of despair. The film functions on the idea that music is a universal constant -- it's something that we all recognize and for some, it's a way to communicate. The original story was written by Paul Castro and Nick Castle, who is probably best known for playing Michael Myers in Halloween, but he has a background in music as well.

The makers of August Rush have done a great job of melding the story together, but the film does have some problems. Despite the fact that he's basically the main character, Evan is very underwritten and we learn little about him. Based solely on his actions, it would be very easy to assume that he has an illness such as Autism, or that he's a savant of some sort. The movie attempts to cram a lot of information into its 113 minute running time, but it still feels sluggish at times. The problem which most audience members will have is that August Rush asks for some suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. The movie is filled with coincidences which bring the characters together and drive them apart. My biggest question dealt with the fact that no one at the orphanage ever cause Evan a musical instrument.

Watching August Rush, you'll feel as if you've heard this story before, but never told in quite this way. The movie has a great message about the power of music, and despite the fact that it's very hokey at times, it's also uplifting and moving.

August Rush brings the music to Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the Disc carries a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 17 Mbps. The image is quite sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The picture is very stable and shows a nice amount of depth and detail. The exterior scenes in New York City look fantastic. I didn't note any video noise or artifacting here. Yet, the image doesn't have the "pop" that I've seen on other Blu-rays. It's certainly sharper than DVD, but I wouldn't call it reference quality. The disc houses a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. This track delivers dialogue and sound effects which are clear and audible. The stereo and surround effects during the exterior street scenes are very good. Of course, it's the music which takes center stage here and it sounds great, as it comes from all five speakers and surrounds the listener.

The August Rush Blu-ray Disc is decidedly lacking in extras, as the only bonuses are 7 "Additional Scenes". Unfortunately there is no "Play All" selection with this feature. These are all simply dialogue scenes and none contain information which wasn't already in the film. Oddly, four of them contain Robin Williams. This is a film where I actually wouldn't have minded a featurette to learn more about from where the inspiration for the story came.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long