Directed By: Kirsten Sheridan
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams, William Sadler, Leon G. Thomas III
August Rush tells the Oliver Twist-like tale of its title character played by Freddie Highmore. August was born as the result of a one-night meeting between cello prodigy Lyla (Russell) and rock singer Louis (Meyers). Lila's overprotective father (Sadler) refuses to let her see Louis again, and after learning she is pregnant, opportunistically uses a car accident several months later to convince Lyla that her child has died, forging her signature on a paper forsaking her parental rights. Raised in an orphanage, August has a fascination with music, and is convinced that some day, it will be the means to reunite him with his parents. As a result, many of his fellow orphans consider him a freak, and most of the employees question his certainty. August eventually runs away to Manhattan where he falls under the sway of Wizard (Williams), a Fagin-like leader of a gang of young boys who busk for money around the city and are based in the abandoned Fillmore East theater. August's prodigious musical abilities quickly make him Wizard's favorite, but his dream of reuniting with his parents, who have been unaware of his existence for over a decade, remains remote until a deathbed confession from Lyla's father and an impulsive decision by Louis set events into motion which draw them to New York.
In many ways, August Rush feels like one of those elementary school productions of Oliver Twist where the Bill Sikes character is omitted for being too scary and all of the social commentary is completely excised. This leaves it more or less as a series of improbable coincidences and shameless contrivances pointed towards an inevitable happy ending. Fortunately, as series of improbable coincidences and shameless contrivances pointed towards inevitable happy endings go, this is a fairly entertaining one. Watching this, I found myself admiring the film for its earnestness and sentimentality. The inclination of most modern filmmakers, even those involved in making family-oriented films, is to keep an ironic distance from any romantic or sentimental notions or at least put them off until the final reel. August Rush wears its heart on its sleeve from the very first moment with no apologies and nary a flatulence joke or pop-culture reference to distract the audience.
In keeping with this sense of earnestness, all of the actors play things completely straight, which is the only way the film has a chance of working. Yes, this means Robin Williams, too. He does not quite find the right balance of paternal and menacing for Wizard to work as a convincing impediment to August's goals, but he at least avoids lapsing into any stand-up shtick. Highmore, for his part, plays the naïve wide-eyed dreamer well, even managing to carry the scenes where August is getting lost in his music and the sounds all around him without appearing ridiculous, which I am sure was no mean feet. These scenes are important since as contrived as the whole enterprise is, the one thing the film does convey effectively is the emotional and transcendent possibilities of music to unite people and impose order on a chaotic world.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.4:1 presentation is encoded on one side of a double sided single layered DVD-10 disc. There are some compression issues that will be noticeable on large screen displays, but they are only a mild distraction from a reasonable viewing distance. Some scenes that one would expect to be problematic, such as an early one of August in a field of tall blowing grass, actually look pretty good. On the other hand, simple things such as on-screen titles really seem to bring out the artifacts. This hampers the opening of the film which spreads the credits out over a prologue that runs several minutes. I also noticed some instances of low intensity ringing along high contrast edges, but it was not pervasive. Other than that, color and contrast are very nice with better than average shadow detail. I did not look at the 4:3 presentation on the flip side of the disc for this review.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track presents a mix that is very active and directional. The sound mix uses the rear channels creatively to emphasize how August synthesizes the sounds he hears all around him into his music. Frequency response is wide and pleasing. The only knock I have on the mix and/or its presentation is that it has surprisingly little dynamic range. This may be an artifact of the efforts of the sound mixers to combine classical music, rock music, and ambient city sounds into a cohesive whole during several key sequences. Other than a couple of scenes that employ the LFE and its associated dynamic headroom for effect, the overall sound is compressed. I would definitely not recommend watching this one in a "Midnight" mode or with any additional dynamic range compression applied. Alternate language dub Dolby Digital 2.0 Pro-logic tracks are available in French and Spanish.
The only extras are a collection of seven Additional Scenes which run a total of ten minutes and six seconds. They are presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound:
- August cries on a park bench and Wizard cheers him up.
- An argument between Louis and his brother after he quits his job but before he goes looking for Lyla.
- Louis and his girlfriend have a conversation before she drives off from his brother's party.
- August and Wizard discuss the stars, the past, and the source of August's talents. This scene repeats one of the dialog exchanges from the first deleted scene.
- At the subway station, Wizard yells at August to play and August cannot.
- Lyla visits the orphanage where August grew up and is told by August's friend that he has gone to New York City.
- Arthur brings a missing child flyer with August's picture on it to Wizard and is accused of wanting to rat him out.
- August Rush Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (4:3 video – 32 seconds)
- The Martian Child DVD Trailer (16:9 video – 38 seconds)
- Nancy Drew DVD Trailer (4:3 letterboxed video – 33 seconds)
The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no inserts.
August Rush is a modern take on Oliver Twist that is a bit too contrived to approach greatness, but has a sense of romantic earnestness that makes it refreshingly out of step with most recent family fare. The film is presented on disc with a decent 16:9 enhanced transfer hampered somewhat by occasional compression issues. It also has a 4:3 transfer on the flip side of the double-sided single-layered disc. The sound mix makes extremely creative use of all 5.1 channels, but has limited dynamic range. The only extras consist of ten minutes of deleted scenes which are mildly interesting, but not difficult to understand why they were dropped.