August: Austin Chick’s Sundance Film

Sundance Film Fest 2008–Austin Chick’s poorly directed “August” is a follow-up to his disappointing feature debut, “XX/XY,” which played at the Sundance Dramatic competition several years ago. His new picture was shown in the Spectrum section and is now being released by First Look.

Howard A. Rodman’s screenplay, about an aggressive hotshot dot-com entrepreneur, struggling to survive as the bottom falls out of the market, seems workable, and in the hands of a more skillful director could have become a moderately enjoyable thriller.

The story is set at a crucial time, in March 2001, when the previously booming business of dot-com went into sharp decline. First sign that the film doesn’t distinguish between substantial and superficial events is in the prologue, when we see our new president sworn in along with a reference to breakup of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (By the way, Cruise could have played the Hartnett hotshot role in his sleep, and it may not be a coincidence that the protag’s name is Tom).

Josh Hartnett plays Tom Sterling, the cocky head of an Internet Company called LandShark who, despite signs of alram, somehow managed to keep his head above water. How exactly we never find out.

Five months later, in August, the company faces serious financial problems, forcing most of the team’s members to reassess seriously the new economics-except for Tom, who continues to cruise around town in his sexy convertible, playing with ideas.

Despite disagreements with his company’s execs Melanie (Robin Tunney) and Dylan (Andrew Royo), Tom convinces himself that its products, which were developed by his brother Joshua (Adam Scott), are still in demand and may still revolutionize the biz. Is he an idealistic dreamer A visionary A delusional who refuses to foresee change and anticipate failure

The script never answers these questions, and Hartnett, though likable, gives a blank, enigmatic performance that is not grounded in any particular reality.

The mood of the piece is also unclear. In a month or so after the story’s time frame. the U.S. would go through the ordeal of 9/11, the most traumatic event in American history. Is the movie trying to tell us something

The family dynamics between the two siblings, who work together, also remains insufficiently explored. Early on, we get the impression that Tom is the aggressive one, the brains behind the operation, whereas Joshua is a family man, married to Emmanuelle Chiriqui, father to a baby, and burdened with mortgage and debts. The good charcater actors, Rip Torn and Caroline Lagerfelt, are largely wasted as Tom’s parents.

What slightly elevates this picture is its high-profile cast, including Naomie Harris, who plays the thankless role of Tom’s former girlfriend, and pop icon David Bowie, who shows up in the last reel as a tycoon of the old-school.

However, overall, the movie is a letdown, and not for lack of potentially interesting ideas, or persona, but for poor execution, a result of Chick’s pedestrian helming.

I have no idea when Rodman’s scenario, which was initially titled “Silicon Valley,” was written, but I suspect it has been around for a while. Hence, in the current climate, the yarn is not only predictable but pass too. (There have been quite a few good docus about the Dot-Com enterprise). As is, August” falls in between the cracks: It’s neither detached enough to serve as a critical period piece, nor timely enough to register social or political resonance.

Poorly titled, “August” is yet another Sundance feature this year that got into the festival largely as a result of its star power: Josh Hartnett is also credited as one of the executive producers.


A 57th & Irving presentation of an Original Media production in association with Periscope Entertainment.
Produced by Charles Corwin, Clara Markowicz, Elisa Pugliese, David Guy Levy.
Executive producer, Patrick Morris.
Co-producer, Jonathan Shoemaker.
Directed by Austin Chick.
Screenplay, Howard A. Rodman.
Camera: Andrij Parekh.
Editor: Pete Beaudreau.
Music: Nathan Larson; music supervisor, Howard Paar.
Production designer: Roshelle Berliner.
Art director: Fredda Slavin.
Set decorator: Kelly Burney.
Sound: Larry Lowinger; supervising sound editor, Bob Hein.


Tom (Josh Hartnett)
Sarrah (Naomie Harris)
Joshua (Adam Scott)
Melanie (Robin Tunney)
Dylan (Andre Royo)

With: Emanuelle Chriqui, David Bowie, Rip Torn, Caroline Lagerfelt.

Running time: 89 Minutes.