Director: Austin Chick
Screenwriter: Howard A. Rodman
Producers: Charlie Corwin, Elisa Pugliese, David Guy Levy, Josh Hartnett
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott, Naomie Harris, Robin Tunney, Rip Torn
U.S.A., 2007, 88 min.
*Austin Chick returns to the Festival (his XX/XY played in 2002) with August, a sophisticated and razor-sharp film about an aggressive young dot-com entrepreneur struggling to keep his head above water as the bottom falls out of the market.
At the end of March 2001, the dot-com market went into a downward freefall, but LandShark, an Internet company run by the cocky Tom Sterling (Josh Hartnett), seemed to come through the crash still glistening with the aura of success. In August, however, the company faces serious financial troubles, and everyone—except for Tom—seems to be coming to terms with that fact. He cruises around town in his money-green convertible, convinced that LandShark’s products, which were developed by his brilliant brother, Josh (Adam Scott), are still in high demand and destined to revolutionize the future of business. Tom is right, but the road to the revolution may not look exactly like the one he has in mind.
In his brilliantly crafted sophomore effort, Chick draws spot-on performances all around (including a cleverly cast David Bowie) and perfectly captures the innocence, optimism, and electric anticipation of the rise of e-commerce that enthralled America before the world changed. At its most basic level, August is about hubris—about a time when we, as Americans, thought we were untouchable.
*Summary by Shari Frilot, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
August, other than featuring a fantastic performance by Josh Hartnett, did not do that much for me. Should I continue, or is that sufficient? Nah, there are some redeeming parts, and I’ll get to those. First of all, I can hear people saying already, “Josh Hartnett?! Really?!?” I had the same reaction, I have never really seen him step to the plate in a film, in fact there are a few I can think of where he seemed to really bring the movie down a level. However, in August, he portrays a fascinatingly flawed character with so much charm that it is impossible to take your eyes off of him. This makes me really excited to see what he can do next, it’s just a shame the coldness and impenetrable nature of this script doesn’t help him out.
This is a business-affairs movie that depends on how much the audience knows about business models, stocks, IPOs, and company legislative acts. Honestly, I felt like I needed a business degree just to understand what was going on. There are movies that portray this kind of world without getting one lost, such as Wall Street or to a lesser extent, Michael Clayton. I felt like I was missing insight into Hartnett’s character, Tom, by not knowing what exactly he was going through. The dialogue is mostly excellent in the film; I just thought there was too much of it. Hartnett’s first scene in the boardroom, convincing investors to put money into his company, is his best. Neatly encapsulated is this scene is his charm, showmanship, and enormous ego. A fascinating display, Hartnett grabs your attention from the beginning. There are too many speeches for him to give throughout the film. A lecture he gives at an e-conference is not nearly as smart as it builds itself up to be and one of his later speeches in a bar is just padding. Though that last bar speech does have a killer ending line! Outside the first boardroom scene, I preferred the more toned-down aspects of his character in the personal scenes with Naomie Harris. They have a nice back-and-forth rapport, and it is nice to see Hartnett’s charms ooze through in a more understated and seductive sense. In addition, it’s nice to see a regular Naomie Harris character. I’m getting a little tired of seeing her scream and overact her guts out in film like Pirates and 28 Days Later. Here she plays Sarrah, a girl who has been burned by Tom before, and is hesitant to get in a relationship with him again. I was never quite sure what this relationship tells us about Tom. At one point, he is supposed to meet Sarrah at her art show, but is over an hour late. Its not that he is busy, Tom is shown sitting outside the art show, waiting to be late. I just don’t understand why Tom did this. He knew it would be the end of their relationship, and he wanted to be with Sarrah, so why? I assume it is a comment on his self-destructive business practices seeping into his personal life, or vica-versa, but I wanted some more clarification.
August takes place in the dot.com era, as the bubble was collapsing a month before September 11th, 2001. I know that the whole country was involved in the dot.com explosion, and that there are stories to tell about the NY business side of that time. But, if the filmmakers wanted to really capture the zeitgeist of that time and sense, wouldn’t it have made more sense to set the movie in Silicon Valley? Just didn’t get that. The music didn’t work for me, it was too loud and dramatic; nice for the scenes where Tom is running around in a frantic mess, but confusing in his quieter scenes. I found it unnecessary that we never find out what Tom’s company, LandShark, actually makes. I get the joke, ha ha, the internet start-up companies were so flash-in-the-pan, nothingness that it doesn’t actually matter what they made as long as they could sell it. But, it was confusing. At one point, Tom gives his parents a gift in a LandShark box, a small Buddha. Tom’s brother gets mad at him for some reason, and I was having a hard time figuring out why. Because LandShark sells Buddhas and Tom gave his parents the smaller size? Maybe I was a little slow the day I saw this, but I just missed a lot.I really liked the end boardroom scene with David Bowie in a cameo. He is great at playing these mysterious and eccentric authority figures. In August, he serves as the wake-up call for Tom, the voice that lets Tom know how far gone he really is. It was a very nice finale scene, especially with the Twin Towers out the window in the back, letting the audience in on the secret that in a month, thoughts of internet IPOs and stock market gains will be forgotten. For at least a week or so. Let’s not naively pretend that 9/11 changed the economic function of New York City. I am sure that the tycoons this film portrays, like Tom or David Bowie’s character, were immediately on the phones trying to figure out how to spin tragedy into up-ticks and distraction into windfall. Greed, ego, and ambition are too strong in business to allow sentiment to intrude for more than a moment. Wow, off of the soapbox. Anyways, if you want to catch a career-defining role for Josh Hartnett, August is your film, but you are going to have to slog through a whole lot of strange plot threads and business language gobbledy-gook to find it.