In 10 Words or Less
A fairy tale about the power and beauty of music
Loves: Music, The cello
Likes: A touching story, Robin Williams
Dislikes: Heart-tugging stories
Hates: Blatantly over-the-top melodrama
Some movies ask you to suspend your disbelief, offering you a story that requires you to check your logic at the door in order to get any entertainment out of it. August Rush, on the other hand, needs you to take your disbelief out behind the barn and put a bullet in it. Realism doesn't exist in this world, outside of the fact that these characters seem to breathe oxygen, though that might even be a stretch, as they may as well be sucking in pixie dust. This is a fable, plain and simple, and if you're comfortable with that, you may actually enjoy the film. If not, it's going to be a long 113 minutes.
The titular August (Freddie Highmore, Jr.) is a child abandoned by his parents, living unhappily in an orphanage and holding tight to the hopes that one day he will find his mom and dad. The key to his hopes is his belief that if he can make music and they can hear it, everything can be fixed. It's certainly a long shot, but he believes it so much, he runs away from his upstate orphanage and heads to New York City to chase his dreams.
At the same time, in the film at least, two young musicians, Irish rocker Louis (Jonathan Rhys Myers) and classical cellist Lyla (Keri Russell) find each other beneath the pale moon light, and share a night together. Their individual lives conspire to pull them apart though, and they go their separate ways, though neither is happy about it, and the unhappiness culminates in a tragic accident. Time passes, people change, but these two are still hung up on each other, despite never seeing each other again. But then, a slip of the tongue by Lyla's overbearing stage father reveals she has some unfinished business that's wandering around somewhere. (Figure it all out yet?)
Wandering around New York City, August quickly falls in with a gang of street urchins led by Wizard (Robin Williams), who sends them across the metropolis to sing for their supper (and his.) Once you see their hideout, an abandoned playhouse, and experience their many musical talents, you'll start to pick apart the many influences that shaped this movie, as these lost boys are soon usurped by the very talented newcomer, whom Wizard sees as his meal ticket. That a pied piper like Wizard, who fluctuates psychotically between caring patron of the arts and hard-driving slave-master, could exist in any city not created by Dickens is patently ludicrous, and further serves to illustrate the artificial nature of the film. Throw in Terence Howard as the most caring and least busy social worker in the history of NYC and you've got everything you need for an overblown TV film.
From there things spiral to new heights of fictionality, including a religious experience in a black church and acceptance at Julliard, despite no formal training. Watching a movie where a young child can go from dirty ragamuffin in the subway to shit-shined in a tux in approximately five minutes made me think perhaps the first edit of this movie excised all vestiges of reality from the film, in an attempt to create an aneurysm in the minds of more thoughtful viewers. It almost feels like the movie taunts you with its illogical storyline, slapping you and saying "What are you going to do about it?"
Well, there's not much you can do, because once August's otherworldly ability to play music comes to light, the film goes crazy, trying to get through as many plot points as possible before culminating in the most motivationless and coincidental endings I've ever experienced outside of a first-year creative writing class. If not for the beautiful score and soundtrack, and Highmore's natural capability to not seem cloying, I would have given up much earlier, but there I was, right there to the end, where I actually got a bit misty. That's the power of the human heart I guess. Some forces just can't be resisted and as the movie says, music is one of them.
A one-disc flipper release with widescreen on one side and full-Frame on the other, August Rush is packed in a standard keepcase and features a static anamorphic widescreen main menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish. There is no closed captioning.
The very wide anamorphic widescreen transfer on this film looks great, with excellent color, deep blacks, a crisp image and a rather high level of detail (check out the stray threads on the cello bows for an example.) There's no noticeable dirt or damage in the picture, and no obvious digital artifacts. It's really quite nice.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is uniformly good, putting the dialogue dead-center for the majority of the film, saving the surrounds to handle the bulk of the work when delivering the film's many musical moments. It's highly enjoyable to just sit back and enjoy the power of the score and soundtrack, including some quality guitar songs that really sing.
The only extra is a 10-minute reel of deleted scenes, which are presented in letterboxed widescreen. The main feature here are the number of scenes with August and Wizard, in which Wizard acts like the loving guru that's normally played by Morgan Freeman. There's enough of these confusing scenes in the movie, but if these were left in, there'd be no reading Williams' character.
The Bottom Line
Sickeningly sweet, August Rush will rub most people the wrong way, carrying the kind of storytelling credibility of a soap opera. But despite pushing a ridiculously impossible tale, it's actually pretty watchable, thanks to a likable, talented cast and impressive use of music. The DVD looks and sounds great, but there's next to nothing included in terms of extras. This is going to be a polarizing film for many viewers, and the lack of extras pretty much guarantee that you're going to want to rent it before diving in with a purchase.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.