Josh Hartnett stars in AUGUST, directed by Austin Chick for First Look Studios.

August (2008, Austin Chick)

August clocks in, with end credits, at eighty-four minutes. I didn’t know the running time going in, so I wasn’t thinking about it. I would have guessed, just based on the perceptive passage, around two hours. My wife, not being a fan, probably would say three and a half. Doing a good movie in ninety minutes has gotten, for whatever reason, to be near impossible in the last forty-odd years. Doing a great one in under ninety, in New York, with a limited cast, has actually gotten a little easier in the last few. I’m thinking of Looking for Kitty.

August does a couple things, a couple important things. First, it fulfills Josh Hartnett, whose career has been in a mainstream paralysis the last six years. He’s the whole show in August, playing an unlikable, unsympathetic alpha male selling a useless internet product before the technology for it even exists. His character thinks he’s Prince. I’d seen some previews and they don’t properly represent his performance (August is, as the next point will clarify, difficult to sell). He’s fantastic.

The second thing it does is more and less important. August is a character study. I kept waiting for it not to be a character study, I kept waiting for it to go bad once it started getting great, but then the last scene came around and it became clear how Chick was ending the film.

August is set in August 2001. The World Trade Center only appears in one establishing shot. What Chick and writer Rodman do with that setting is rather unexpected. The film also has a lot of financial hyperbole–most of the conversations in the film are about Hartnett and brother Adam Scott’s company’s financial condition, not the most riveting to audiences. But it’s a character study.

As a director, Chick was one of my initial problems with August. His composition kept bothering me. It was like he was wasting a quarter of the screen (August is Panavision aspect, a quarter off would make it fit for HD). Then, after the first time shot using the entire screen, it became clear he was using that empty space. He was using it all along, but I guess I was just too suspect to give him the credit. I thought it was getting lucky.

The rest of the cast is good (even David Bowie). Since it’s all about their relationships with Hartnett, Adam Scott and Naomie Harris have the best parts. Scott and Hartnett only mildly resemble each other around the eyes (and it’s only at the end Chick uses close-ups), but August has one of those good, difficult brother relationships. Harris is the ex-girlfriend; she and Hartnett only have three scenes, but they’re all excellent. The other supporting cast members–Andre Royo, Robin Tunney, Rip Torn, Caroline Lagerfelt–all good.

August is definitely the sum of its parts–Nathan Larson’s music, awkward in the trailer and, I’m sure, on its own, is an essential element–as is Andrij Parekh’s cinematography. Chick makes an eighty-four (sorry, eighty-nine… with end credits) film, shot on limited locations (I figure the driving sequence was either the most expense or illegally done), about three weeks, expansive.

At some point, I guess somewhere after the twenty minute mark, I thought how nice it would be if August were great, then dismissed it. I’m not sure if I’m happier with the unexpected surprise or if I’m mad I’m so defeatist about film. But considering August, there’s no reason to be quite so cynical.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Austin Chick; written by Howard A. Rodman; director of photography, Andrij Parekh; edited by Pete Beaudreau; music by Nathan Larson; production designer, Roshelle Berliner; produced by Elisa Pugliese, Clara Markowicz, Josh Hartnett, Charlie Corwin and David Guy Levy; released by First Look Studios.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Tom), Naomie Harris (Sarrah), Adam Scott (Joshua), Robin Tunney (Melanie), Andre Royo (Dylan), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Mo), Laila Robins (Pivo), Caroline Langerfelt (Nancy), Alan Cox (Barton), David Bowie (Ogilvie) and Rip Torn (David).


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