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IN SHORT: One of the first great serious films of the year. [Rated R for language and some sexual content. 88 minutes]
Way back in our film school days (yes, we'll cop to it) we had a screen writing professor who emphasized that the better scripts work because they make a connection to what a ticket buyer brings in with him/her. In other words, you can make up a SF story about being marooned on Mars but it'll still be Swiss Family Robinson. But on Mars! Everything is about relationships. On a secondary level, a great script works if it pulls the viewer into a world they don't know. Conversely, if the viewer does know the world, said script should thrash viewer soundly about the head and shoulders and leave (him) going wow.
We fall in the latter category, which probably means August will vanish well before said titular month rolls around. In this particular case we don't care. This August left us soundly thrashed <g>
August documents the crash and burn of a fictional internet company -- though founding partner Tom Sterling (Josh Hartnett) would bristle at that description -- called Landshark. Formed in the aftermath of the great dotcom crash of 1998 or so, Landshark started with a nebulous "idea" from Tom's brother Joshua (Adam Scott) and, thanks to Tom's svengali-like pitch skills, became a monster company with hundreds of employees. Said employees, according to the Sterling's father (Rip Torn), sit at their Ikea desks and "eat Oreo cookies twelve hours a day, seven days a week". To dad's old "brick and mortar" point of view, Landshark's business model is all smoke and mirrors. To Tom, the model is a gem that goes beyond "e-commerce". It is just "e".
Tom expects everyone involved in this enterprise, specifically brother Josh, to turn over every dime in the bank to keep the company afloat for one month. Apparently, the stock markets have deemed that for one month trading in the stock would be locked to the company employees. No one can buy or sell to make a personal profit or to reinvest that cash in the company. Landshark must float, or sink, all on its own. Hovering at the edge is an old school investment house (we think) run by one Cyrus Ogilvie (David Bowie). Ogilvie is about to give the Sterling boys a lesson in how to do business. In old school language, he is about to take Tom out to the woodshed. Bowie's five minutes on screen are flat out devastating.
OK, now that the teens in the audience have rolled their eyes up and pulled their PSP units out of wherever, we can talk about how dead on Howard Rodman's script is about smoke and mirrors and Internet (or general business) startups and the economics of a great pitch. Over the course of the last thirty years we've seen it happen at least three times in three different companies we've worked for. One in radio (during which we worked with the aforementioned Bowie. Thrill of a lifetime a lifetime ago). One in the record business (in which the smoke and mirrors, paraphrased by singer Wreckless Eric as "sex and drugs and rock and roll. Very Good Indeed"). One, specifically, on the Internet where the charisma of the founding partner (and a lot of luck and good timing) made a few people a ton of money and cost their investors two tons of money.
As that professor said, a film works by making that connection to what the viewer brings in. Which is why we were riveted by the absolute perfection of this production. Whether you expect it or not, August will give you viewers a concise schooling in basic business start ups. As you watch the various characters crash and burn; or make the business equivalent of a "supreme sacrifice;" or just cut the legs out from under a rival just because they don't like the way (they) do business, you will still learn more about the relationship between the brothers Sterling than you would expect. It all comes down to pinball. We will not explain that line. You will have to see the film.
August is one of those gems that rides on an impeccably produced script. Hartnett and Scott, as the brothers against the business world (when they are not in conflict with each other) convey more about their relationship without saying a word -- we did years in acting school, too. Add to it Hartnett's emotionally stunted attempts to steady his world by rekindling an old relationship and pulling one last rabbit out of the hat by addressing some kind of ecommerce symposium -- most of whom expect him to detail his company's failure. That's not what they get.
This is just terrific work across the board. We will pause here, lest we start ranting and raving like some film school geek. [more ranting to come]
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to August, he would have paid . . .
We brought a lot to the table. August is heavily weighted towards the arthouse train of thought. It is slow and precise and, depending on your personal knowledge, will either bore you silly or stick you to your seat.
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