Young Freddie Highmore is starting to make a name for himself. Since 2004, Highmore has had supporting and starring roles in a number of prominent releases. The young actor co-starred with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in "Finding Neverland" as a boy who wouldn't grow up in a film based upon the life of the writer responsible for the story "Pete Pan." The following year found Highmore starring alongside Depp again as the title character in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The young British actor landed the lead voice role in the animated film "Arthur and the Invisibles." He had a small role in the big-budget "The Golden Compass" and portrayed twins as the lead in the recent "The Spiderwick Chronicles." However, the dramatic film "August Rush" allows Highmore to show an ability to handle serious dramatic roles in contrast to the fantasy films he has typically been casted in.
In "August Rush," Highmore is a youth named Evan Taylor. He grows up in an orphanage, but can hear music in everything that surrounds him. Evan is considered an outcast when he tells others that he believes the music he hears are messages from the parents he has never met or known. The parents in question are an Irish singer, Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and a renowned cello player, Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell). The two had shared a one night love affair and never able to engage in the strong love they found on that one night. Through a course of events, Lyla's father Thomas Novacek (William Sadler) secretly signs papers to place newly born Evan in foster care and tells Lyla that the baby did not survive an accident Lyla had been injured in. While under the care of the orphanage, Evan meets a caring counselor named Richard Jeffries (Terrence Howard).
The film moves along and Evan finds himself alone on the streets of New York. He must follow the music and discover if the messages he perceives in the music can lead him to his parents. Jeffries tries desperately to find Evan and Lyla is given word that her son had indeed survived the crash. She travels to New York City in hopes of finding her long lost son. Louis has never been able to shake the deep feelings he has for Lyla and begins to cross the country in search of the woman he had shared a passionate night with a dozen years previously. As they search for Evan, he comes under the care of a shady musician called Wizard (Robin Williams) and a young boy with a love of the guitar named Arthur (Leon G. Thomas III). Evan becomes known as August Rush as he follows the music which may one day lead him to his parents.
The supporting cast of "August Rush" is affable, but uneven. Actress Keri Russell is nicely cast as the frustrated and frantic mother and musician. Russell is best known for her starring work in the now defunct television show "Felicity." She has not had a significant impact in cinema, but Russell has been fine in the roles she has taken. "August Rush" is not a high profile film, but this is one of the better roles she has been cast into. Terrence Howard is a fine actor and while he isn't given a lot of room to show his craft in "August Rush," he puts forth a formidable effort. I've liked Howard in previous films and had hoped he had a bigger part in this film. Howard is one of those actors that instantly make a film better and while he doesn't have a lot to do, or a lot of screen time in the film, his presence is known.
The two primary supporting male leads are less impressive. Rhys Meyers is Irish and plays an Irishman; not a huge stretch for the actor. His character does nothing but mope until the only decent scene featuring Rhys Meyers, which has the character of Louis unwittingly meeting his son. Aside from this one singular scene, I was excited about the character of Louis and felt that Rhys Meyers simple idled in his performance. I wouldn't suggest he is awful in the film, but Rhys Meyers could have been replaced with an umpteen number of Irish actors with just as much conviction. Robin Williams, on the other hand, feels out of place as the shady Wizard. Williams is an actor associated with comedy and inspiration. His character is neither and never feels either street smart or shady. I guess they couldn't get Samuel L. Jackson. I love Robin Williams as an actor, but this film was not meant for him.
Returning to the subject of Freddie Highmore, the young actor is very good in "August Rush." The character of Evan Taylor is a modern day Oliver Twist and Highmore looks comfortable in either rags or spiffed up. In his early years as an actor, Highmore shows he can handle a multitude of emotions and in this film he shows loneliness, longing, hope and happiness. Highmore is asked to slip into the shoes of a musical genius and I was more than convinced during scenes where August Rush is viewed as an untrained and modern day Mozart. I have my serious doubts that I would have been able to easily sit through this film if Highmore wasn't as convincing as he was in the starring role and any praise given to this is related to the work done by the then-fifteen year old.
"August Rush" moves along slowly. The back story is revealed through flashbacks and much of Rhys Meyers and Russell find their performances anchored in these flashbacks. A large subplot of the film revolves around the romance shared between the two. Unfortunately, it is hard to expand one a short-lived one night stand when only about a four sentence conversation is shown in the film from the one night to remember. With the characters living in the past and moping about their lives, "August Rush" feels like a contrived series of emotional responses. The film spends so much trying to force the audience into feeling sorrow and hope for these characters that you ultimately do not find any true emotion towards their plight. The remaining half of the film focuses on the young boy who is central to everything. When Highmore is on-screen, the film movies along at a good pace and is entertaining. Otherwise, it is a contrived and plodding affair that isn't difficult to forget.
As a film, I neither disliked nor particularly enjoyed "August Rush." It was there. I watched it. I'm not asking for my two hours of my life back, but I'm not feeling any strong desire to ever watch the film again. I have a love of music and between the film's focal point on music and the performance of "August Rush," I was able to watch the film from beginning to end without too much restlessness. Neither Jonathan Rhys Meyers nor Robin Williams added anything of value to the film and while I thought Keri Russell and Terrence Howard put forth good performances, their characters were uninspiring. Asking a fifteen year old to hold the weight of a film on his shoulders is a large task and Freddie Highmore delivers. However, it typically takes a lot more than one solid performance to make a film something you will want to experience time and time again and "August Rush" doesn't have much more than Highmore.
Warner Bros. has provided a good looking 2.40:1 transfer for the Blu-ray release of "August Rush." The film is mastered using the VC-1 codec and utilizes pristine source materials to offer up a clean and visually pleasing digital mastering of the film. All big words aside, "August Rush" looks pretty good on Blu-ray, but it isn't anything special. The level of detail contained in the title is pretty good. I enjoyed the broken down theater set used as the home of Arthur, Wizard and August and felt the decrepit conditions looked very good in high definition. Some of the grittier sequences in the film lacked that three dimensional feeling associated with 1080p resolution, but the detail was typically strong. Colors are also strong, with sharp hues present throughout the film. There were a few minor instances where flesh tones felt a little overblown, but I was generally pleased with the film's palette. While this isn't the most detailed or colorful transfer, it is no worse than average.
"August Rush" comes fully equipped with a strong sounding Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that showcases the film's musical elements. The disc also contains French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. Much of the film is centric to music and I was quite happy that the TrueHD mix delivered each musical note with depth and clarity. One particularly good sounding scene involved Evan listening to the sounds of New York City as if it were a full-fledged symphony and I was floored at how the filmmakers managed to make music from mayhem. The usage of the rear surrounds was very apparent during this sequence and both ambience and music were carried smoothly between each channel. The mix nicely utilizes both high and low ends of the sound spectrum. Dialogue is crystal clear. "August Rush" is not an overpowering mix, but it is beautifully done and showed the clarity capable only with TrueHD or other ‘next-gen' sound formats.
The Blu-ray (and equivalent DVD release) of "August Moon" is far from being a special edition. The film flew under the radar of most moviegoers and Warner Bros. has not rewarded those faithful to the film with any substantial value added content. One supplement is provided. It is a collection of seven Additional Scenes. Each scene is selected to be played individually and oddly, no ‘Play All' feature is provided. Over half of the scenes involve Robin Williams' character and while they do add a little more detail to the story, none necessarily need to be re-inserted into the film. With no trailers or even previews, "August Moon" is slim pickings when it comes to extra features.
At the end of the day, or at least after I was done watching "August Rush," I felt very little compassion or aggression towards the film. There were some things I enjoyed about the film and a few things I wasn't particularly excited about. I enjoyed the title character and thought young Freddie Highmore was excellent as Evan Taylor / August Rush. However, those around him were either uninteresting in character or poor casting choices. With Robin Williams and Terrence Howard as supporting actors, you would expect the star power to benefit the film greatly, but it does not. The film plods along at times, but there are some wonderful scenes involving August Rush and his love for music. The Blu-ray release has a good enough looking transfer and the TrueHD mix is a real pleasure. Supplements are thin. This is definitely a title for those with some sort of emotional attachment to the picture. Others may want to simply rent or avoid the film. It isn't a bad film, but I'm not sure it is worth more than the cost of a rental if you want to put a monetary value towards the Blu-ray release.