"August" travels back to the year 2001, when the world was in the midst of a dot com revolution. It was a time when anyone who had some financial backing, a rotund sense of business bluster, and the thinnest of internet purpose could make a killing, branding themselves as the latest must-have application during the online gold rush. As we all know, it didn't last for long.
As the founders of the internet company Landshark, brothers Tom (Josh Hartnett) and Josh (Adam Scott) have turned their once minuscule basement idea into a hot New York commodity, with Tom leading the charge employing his ruthless business demeanor and slick, slacker appearance. However, when the market starts to turn downward, Landshark finds itself weeks away from its stock-payoff nirvana, but with little cash flow to speak of. Panicking, Tom fights to protect his investment, but finds himself slowly losing his cool. Now with a dreary corporate offer on the table for the company, Tom has to decide between his eroding dreams and the reality of his failing business, which has damaged his relationship with his family (including Rip Torn) and ex-lovers.
Austin Chick, who directed the enterprising sex drama "XX/XY," looks to evoke a robust era of dot com tragedy with "August," when the money flowed like water, ego was in unlimited supply, and America was just a few unknowing steps away from 9/11. It's a captivating time and place, and "August" gets the viewer into the mood with the concentrated snap of Tom's quicksilver business acumen as the character rolls through his day as though blessed with the ability to walk on water, selling himself (rooted in trends and a buzzsaw personality) with more persuasion than his beloved company.
As this harbinger of internet revolution, Hartnett has some difficulty staying ahead of the screenplay. Faced with a grueling role that requires a swift tongue and an imposing sense of boardroom bravado (scored with a beguiling industrial symphony by Nathan Larson), Harnett fails to articulate Tom's intoxicating presence. It's not a terrible piece of acting, just not a dazzling one as promised early in the film.
Moments with Tom verbally dressing down his competition or piling on the internet lingo with the polish of a seasoned vet ring remarkably false, sounding more practiced than second nature. Hartnett is better with a lukewarm pass at romance with actress Naomie Harris, here playing an estranged remnant of soul who can't quite keep a safe distance from his tempting brand of relationship poison. Anything that keeps Tom (and Hartnett) from spewing tech-culture bile and referencing "Un chien andalou" (now there's a groaner Chick and writer Howard Rodman should be ashamed of) is a good thing.
"August" is strictly a character piece, leaving behind an empty sensation of suspense when word of Landshark's demise slowly seeps out to the competition, further alarming Tom. Because Chick is solely invested in Tom's developing misery and not the rise and fall of an internet company, the film fails to hold much interest beyond occasional broad bits of inhospitable behavior. Bitter interactions with Tom's parents and the concerns of Josh, well played with nuanced frustration by Scott, keep the film alive when tech gobbledygook dialogue and obscure stock-option turns of the screw take center stage for most of the picture.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio), "August" retains the gritty heart of period New York City vibe. Grainy, but with solid color reproduction and permissible black levels, the DVD does justice to the jittery nightlife world of the film.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is reserved, but plenty of room is made for Larson's exemplary score. Dialogue and soundtrack cuts are adequately separated, but most surround activity is reserved for the musical moods. A 2.0 track is also available.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
A Theatrical Trailer for "August" is included on this DVD, along with peeks at "Miss Conception," War, Inc.," "An American Crime," "Blood Brothers," "Meet Bill," "King of California," "Sukiyaki Western Django," "The Neighbor," and "Transsiberian."
When Hartnett's performance is more mussed-hair obvious and indicatory than truly insightful, there's little dramatic meat to devour in "August." A third-act scene with David Bowie as the ultimate corporate shark is a nice button on a monotonous, distanced movie, but it's not enough to impart "August" with a lasting shot of inevitable industry horror. The feature has an appealing perspective on a distinctive topic, but just not enough gas to fuel the drama to satisfying lengths.