Judge Clark Douglas was never trained to write DVD reviews. He just lets that tingly sensation sweep into his fingers, and they just write thems357nfdsfhf...
The Music Is Everywhere. All You Have to Do Is Listen.
"You know what music is? God's little reminder that there's something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars."—Robin Williams as "Wizard"
Facts of the Case
It all began on a romantic night when an Irish guitar player met an American cellist. Okay, wait, before I get into that…what is up with the romantic Irish guitar players? August Rush is the fourth film that has been released in the past year that features one (the others were Once, The Simpsons Movie, and P.S. I Love You). So, make a note…if you are in a movie, it most certainly pays off to be an Irish guitar player.
As I was saying, it all began on a romantic night when an Irish guitar player (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Match Point) met an American cellist (Keri Russell, Waitress). Improbably, they meet in a romantic back alley, and not so improbably, they make love. The pair wants to meet each other again, but circumstances tear them apart, and the cellist finds out she is pregnant. During her pregnancy, she is injured, but her baby is delivered. Somehow, the baby is placed in an orphanage, and the mother is convinced that her child died during delivery (a plan devised by the cellist's overbearing father, played by William Sadler, The Shawshank Redemption).
The child (Freddie Highmore, Finding Neverland) grows up in the orphanage, where he is made fun of by the rest of the children for being a "freak." This is because the young child claims he can hear his parents, and he knows that they desperately want him. This is something that I'm sure a lot of orphans have said, but it's absolutely true in this child's case. The child eventually runs away and is taken under the wing of a creepy pimp (Robin Williams, One Hour Photo) of sorts named Wizard (though I'm pretty sure his name in a previous life was Fagin) who exploits musical orphans. The one thing Wizard does give the child is a cool name…August Rush. Will young August be able to find his parents by following the path of the music inside his soul? Hmmm? Surely such a thing is impossible, right?
You know, you really kind of have to have a certain admiration for August Rush. I quite honestly cannot think of a recent motion picture that went to greater lengths of preposterous melodrama in order to create a fairy tale ending. This material would make Charles Dickens blush; it makes one consider Paul Haggis a master of subtlety. As I viewed August Rush, my eyes grew wider and wider with incredulous bewilderment until they finally rolled into the back of my head and noticed that my brain was trying to tell me how awful August Rush was. Yes, it is awful…but it is awful in a quite compelling way.
Each scene works desperately to try and pile on as many clichés as possible, and to do as much as it can to make its happy ending as seemingly marvelous as possible. It's as if someone said, "So, we need to create a situation here. We need a child who has been abandoned, but we need his parents to want to find him very much. Also, we need his parents to be desperately in love with each other, but they can only have met each other once, and each one isn't allowed to know where the other one is. Also, we somehow need to make the mother think that she never actually gave birth to her child. Anyway, at the end, some 11 years or so after the child was born, we need all three of these characters to have a happy reunion. And, um, this reunion needs to be caused by the magic of music. Writers, get on it!"
This dilemma has led to a great deal of ridiculous coincidences in the screenplay, and it has led to an even greater deal of preposterous cheats. The most notorious of these is August Rush's ability to turn any situation into some sort of awe-inspiring musical moment, despite the fact that he never receives any training of any sort. Of course, his parents were a rock singer and a classical cellist, and I can only assume that their combined genes turned him into some sort of musical child superhero. Oh, and did I mention that August has some sort of Spidey sense? Yeah, I'm not even going to get into that right now.
Also unfortunate is the decision to release August Rush as one of those duel-sided DVDs, with the widescreen version on one side and the full frame version on the other side. I've never liked these discs—they lend themselves more easily to smudges and scratches, and the lack of artwork on the front of the disc is generally a liability as far as I'm concerned. Special features are also very slim, limited to 10 minutes of "additional scenes" (oh, is that what we're calling them now?) that aren't terribly interesting.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As ridiculous and awful as this movie is, I have to say it certainly has more than a couple of attributes. The film's genuine saving grace is the very good music spread throughout the film, which is written and/or produced by composer Mark Mancina (Twister). Mancina does a genuinely wonderful job of finding ways to develop pieces that begin as simple sound design and turn into small symphonies. The idea that music is something that is all about passion and feelings and not one bit about clinical stuff like training and practice is ridiculous (speaking as someone who has played the piano for 15 years, I would know), but Mancina and the other filmmakers certainly make it seem like a very appealing notion. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound conveys all of this very well, and the film is certainly quite pleasant to look at too, thanks to a strong transfer.
Even more remarkably, all of the actors are able to play this material with a straight face. Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys-Myers make a reasonably appealing pair, and they each seem part of a pair even though they spend little screen time together. Young Freddie Highmore convincingly manages to make us believe that he is just bursting at the seams with the joy of music. Robin Williams adds a nice element of harsh creepiness to the proceedings. That may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, but harsh creepiness is precisely what a movie like August Rush could use. Finally, Terence Howard is credible and engaging in his brief supporting role.
Yes, August Rush is a piece of indefensible melodrama, but it's precisely the sort of film that some viewers are going to fall in love with. In fact, I'm pretty sure that right now, someone is reading this review and burning up on the inside at the fact that I had the gall to rain on this magical parade. If your ability to suspend disbelief is particularly strong, then perhaps August Rush may sweep you off your feet and charm your socks off. If you're like me and need to be convinced just a little bit that this could possibly happen, then check out Once instead. Now there's a movie about love and the magic of music that you can believe in.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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