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First Look Pictures // R // August 26, 2008
List Price: $28.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted September 21, 2008 | E-mail the Author
In the wake of September '01, the setting for the economic downfall drama August, brothers Tom and Joseph's internet-based communications pioneer LandShark is witnessing the crumble of its then-innovative niche market. It was a common occurrence then that only started to slow right before the attacks on the United States that would change the country's economic outlook. But Austin Chick's film isn't focusing on the logistics behind the periodic economic restructuring; instead, it closes in on the life-altering downfall of one of the many tech-savvy know-it-all entrepreneurs that crumbled during this time. With Josh Hartnett as the focal anti-hero of sorts, the brisk, somewhat narcissistic air about August gives it just enough fuel to grab and hold intrigue for the right amount of time before we start to ask too many questions about logistical integrity.

The Film:

LandShark, as a title, might have more closely embodied the veracity and tension behind August. As a brandname, it mirrors the way that Hartnett's character slides around his crowds of fawning, impressed socialite moneymakers with a thirst for more of the same substance that got him where he is today. Featuring a splendidly characteristic soundtrack and boldly saturated visuals, Chick's deconstruction of this young internet mogul showcases one of Hartnett's better performances. He's a cocky, rich little prick who happened to be at the right place at the right time with his net designer brother Joseph, played by solid character actor Adam Scott whose credits include The Matador and the oddly verbal male nurse in Knocked Up.

They don't make much of a team, separating into the obvious thoughtful worry-wart / instinctual club-hopping socialite dynamic between the two that makes Tom look more like the trophy spokesperson instead of an integral member of the team. His colleagues, brought to life by The Craft's Robin Tunney and television character pawn Andre Royo, look to him admirably enough -- but with dissention in their eyes, as if they know that one sharp gust of wind would blow him off of his perch. August becomes a character portrait capturing this fall as the once-booming corporation begins to topple upon itself, caused by investors and clients alike backpedaling from an industry that they know very little about. It crafts a tense environment, accentuated highly by the acidic atmosphere and head-bobbing soundtrack.

August's strengths stunned me more than its unsurprising weaknesses, especially once Tom begins his slow dissolve from being on top of the world to a crumbling ex-entrepreneur fawning over his hence-returned long lost love from Spain (Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later). It's no secret that Hartnett is a double-sided coin in dramatic range, which is something that filmmakers try to work with; instead of orchestrating around his limits with the trickery and tomfoolery that Paul McGuigan put to use in Lucky Number Slevin, Authur Click really uses Hartnett's stoicism to give Tom Sterling a jagged personality. I'm somewhat ambivalent about Hartnett, never really minding his presence in flicks like 30 Days of Night and Black Hawk Down -- hell, even finding likable things about each role, especially in his solid Mozart and the Whale performance. August is no exception, as his Glengarry GlenRoss-powered ruthless persona supplies more than enough charisma to keep the motor humming.

It's a rather simple up-and-down kind of narrative, short and to the point, but the small character intricacies make August a worthwhile swim through the early Internet surge. Several minor characters push Tom's buttons, such as his father (Rip Torn, Men in Black) and a one-upped veteran cutthroat entrepreneur (David Bowie, The Prestige), in such a way that it rustles up the unnerved side of Hartnett's repetiore for our enjoyment. August becomes all about watching Hartnett squirm with indelible tension underneath the crashing thumb of his company, as well as his metamorphosis into a post-wealth persona with lingering affection in his heart. Hartnett's chemistry with graceful actress Naomie Harris is pleasingly robust, which helps add intrigue to the ambiguity about their past. It also helps the darker moments with a contemplative and subversive Tom, though it doesn't fully explain some of his nonsensical issues with time and interpersonal care.

Even though August does handle its one swatch of focal tones well, it also stays so singularly concentrated and gravitational that it suppresses any outstretching dynamics that it could've used. Tech jargon also helps to cloud thematic weight as it tries to create an elaborate network of buzzwords that we've got to navigate through. It's all part of the youthful lingo and rhythm behind Chick's film, however, which accomplishes everything that it sets out to do on its own terms -- and with moderate strength. Though I do wish there were more to August's corporate scheming and brotherly tension, its firm focus on the lead's claustrophobic energy as his invisible Internet world crashes upon him is a welcome diversion.

The DVD:

Adorned with a dark black obscured visage of Josh Hartnett, much like several of the images in the film, August arrives on DVD in with a standard keepcase presentation.

The Video:

August might be a visually indulgent and pleasurable experience, but the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer isn't quite as pleasant. Color richness came across fine, as did many of the black levels in the film. The digital pixilation, compression artifacts, and overall lack of detail present in this fairly hazy transfer really don't do the film justice. Aliasing is a massive beast to be warned of around these parts, but can really only be noticed in brightly-lit scenarios. It'll do the trick in conveying the cinematography, but there's a lot of attractiveness that gets lost in the process.

The Audio:

Key in its soundtrack is the musical accompaniment, which sounds splendid in this Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Vocal clarity was fine, though mixed a tad on the low side. Some nice surrounds are used sparsely, oftentimes just to encircle the soundstage with enough flavor to create three-dimensionality. Still, it's a suitable presentation that wraps you up in the modern flavor of August's aesthetics. English 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are available, as are optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

The Extras:

Supplemental materials are limited to a Scene Selection. In other words, limited to zilch.


Final Thoughts:

August offers more of a surprisingly tense and gripping atmosphere than I was planning for, including a suitable performance from Josh Hartnett. His interactions with the rest of his "fish", aka the fictional talents behind this early 20th Century Internet framework, wreak non-deliberate chaos on the world that he's build in this fiscal suspense drama. Featuring a lot of solid character performances swelling with his chaotic downfall, Chick's film packs a marginally terse dramatic punch for a film with such a narrow focus. August is worth a Rental for the character focus and the atmosphere, though it's a surface-level one-trick pony without much eccentricity to discover with repeat viewings.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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