Josh Hartnett dazzles in brilliant 'August'
Josh Hartnett should set the film world ablaze with his latest performance in the gripping "August." The "Pearl Harbor" star has come into his own and the actor's steely eyes have never been better utilized than in this tale of life in New York City in the month before 9/11.
August and everything after
Immediately filmmaker Austin Chick puts "August" into context. There is Josh Hartnett getting ready for work with the television news on complete with Nicole Kidman-Tom Cruise divorce details and President George W. Bush being criticized for taking a 30-day vacation in Texas.
Hartnett's Tom is a dreamer whose internet start-up has, thus far, bucked the internet downturn. His company, with brother Josh (Adam Scott), has turned into a hundred-million dollar tech stock force. Many have said that America's economic woes began when the attacks on 9/11 occurred, when in fact, "August" shows that the American financial ideal was already hurt long before those planes crashed into the Twin Towers.
Hartnett takes the film by the horns and never lets up. Easy to see why, the script from Howard A. Rodman is tight, terse and terrific. The supporting cast, although used sparingly, does not allow their short screen time dampen their gripping performances. Stand outs include Robin Tunney and "The Wire's" Andre Royo, when is he not fantastic?
After a quick introduction, the story jumps ahead five months to August 2001. There's immediate acknowledgement of July and what happened. Tech stocks plummeted and Tom's Land Shark was no different. Sitting at $7 a share and sinking fast, Tom, his family-man brother Josh (the brains behind the operation) and the rest of Land Shark executives, scurry to secure investors before time runs out on their dream. They hope to escape the month with some sort of financial security while moving their company forward.
These characters are indicative of the thousands who during this period were worth billions on paper. "August" paints a picture of a world where the billions in the financial realities of August 2001 are in fact, far less inflated.
The soundtrack is powerful in an almost Rob Zombie meets Nine Inch Nails vein. Its haunting bravado gives audiences the feeling of impending tension at every turn. The score provides an urgency that mirrors Hartnett's situation. That music inducing emotion is fitting since the film works as a thriller of sorts. Watching Hartnett, who dominates every scene, plunge into the maze that is the entirely relatable of human efforts, survival, "August" is pure cinematic power. With the music accompanying him, it is impossible to take your eyes off this film from beginning to end.
Family firstAt its heart, "August" is a family story. Specifically it is a tale of two brothers, Josh, played with quiet ferocity by Scott and Hartnett's Tom. Through this film, Hartnett establishes himself as someone who could easily clutch Oscar gold during his career. The story of how sibling relationships whether economic, political and familial storms is ripe with powerful emotion and resonates long after the credits roll. Rip Torn shines as the boys' father who asks perfectly in one scene the question so many asked of the tech boom: "So, what do you do? What do you make?" That question as delivered by veteran Torn perfectly captures the sentiment of a population who wondered what these tech genius had actually "created."
That over inflated value of tech stocks and its subsequent decline is shown in miraculous detail as the "old money" guard swoops in to clean up the financial mess and bail out young entrepreneurs who had bit off more than they could chew. That role of corporate giant is personified brilliantly by David Bowie. If Judi Dench could earn an Oscar for seconds on screen in "Shakespeare in Love," Bowie should be considered for his icy portrayal of old guard capitalism having its revenge on the upstarts.
"August" is a lesson in smartly planning for a future all of us know is unknown. A nameless future is always a gamble, but for these characters, knowing 9/11 is merely weeks away and will drastically change everyone's present and future is a haunting dramatic experience for audiences.
As the world is keenly aware, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 do loom, and Hartnett's "August" will not see a better September. All his efforts to secure a future for him, his brother and Land Shark could be completely undermined by current events yet to occur.
Hartnett's Tom shows a softer side through his relationship with Naomie Harris' Sarrah. The romance allows the actor to show some heart in his character. As his world is slowly closing in around him, he has the life preserver of an old flame, Harris. These two share chemistry we hope is replicated often.
Hartnett is a vision
An often shirtless, tattooed Hartnett walks around much of the film as if he's someone waiting for something to happen. Tom is a visionary in all ways except in his own life. Hartnett the actor shows a vulnerability not been seen in Hartnett's entire body of work. In "August" Hartnett is purely intense.
Hartnett crafts a character with such depth, audiences will treasure the seriousness he put into such a demanding part.
What's also fascinating is the use of the Twin Towers and 9/11. The impending terrorist attacks exist as a looming character that audiences never witness. To see these characters struggle to make it through the weeks of "August" knowing what will happen in that very city in September is a unique method of injecting tension and a thriller mentality to a tale that is at its core the story of two brothers trying to live the American dream.
The towers are only seen twice. At the beginning off in the distance and then at the end, brilliantly framed by director Chick as Hartnett's character is seated in a high rise office building. With slow movements of the camera, Chick brings the two towers into view with Hartnett at its center and frames the entire film in one shot.
Be sure to check back next week for our interview with "August" star Naomie Harris.