Sunday, October 21, 2007
Keri Russell, star of August Rush,
at the Hamptons International Film Festival
August Rush is a great film about "the magic of music," one of the best films ever made about music; one of the best family films I've ever seen.
Musicians -- a young rock star and a brilliant young cellist -- meet by accident after their performances, while relaxing on a rooftop overlooking NY's arch; fall in love by starlight; then are dragged apart by their families. She is pregnant, and when her baby is born prematurely -- after she storms out of a restaurant meal with her controlling father... directly into the path of a car -- the baby boy is sent without her conscious recollection to an orphanage, and she is told he died. The boy grows up in an orphanage denying -- despite the taunts of the other boys -- that his parents are dead; and hearing music in his head that he knows will connect him back to his parents.
It should be noted that it is a terrible fact -- a scandal that belongs on a morning or afternoon talk show -- that in the real world it does happen that new-born babies are signed away for adoption while their mothers are too weak to resist the command to sign a paper, and too groggy to understand what they are signing.
It is a fairy tale in its way, not a literal movie, with the impossibly beautiful Keri Russell, the great looking Jonathan Rhys Meyers and starring Freddie Highmore in a terrific performance. (In a nice touch, Freddie Highmore, the center of the movie, gets billing above the much more famous stars, Russell, Meyers, and Williams.) Highmore plays an 11 year old boy with such perfect knowledge of music in his head (and absolutely no practical experience or technical knowledge at all for his entire liife) that when he is exposed -- for the very first time in his life -- to instruments and how music is written down, he can fill an entire room with musical scores, and begin creating beautiful music on the piano and organ within a few hours.
There is also a negative fairy-tale side: it has creaky plot devices, gaping holes in the plot, and a story which plays the heart strings for more emotions than the most emotive cello can deliver.
Brilliant direction (by Kirsten Sheridan), sophisticated editing, terrific acting, a complex script, and an amazing musical score that includes classical and popular music, plus the music of the sounds of the real world, lift the film above its minor faults, and make it rise above the ordinary.
It is a pleasure, by the way, to watch a film that -- from a technical perspective -- is made so professionally and so well (especially after seeing several films by new directors which have tedious exposition, and dialog that is delivered by the editor with unnatural rhythms), that the smallest details work perfectly.
There are many stories being told simultaneously, since the mother, father and son are each followed, and they are all in different places. Plus, Robin Williams plays a Fagin-like leader of a troupe of runaway kids who perform in the streets, holding them together with a mixture of love, threats, promises, protection, shelter, bombast and instruction. His over-the-top performance is ingeniously justified with two lines of dialog. The boy says, "You look crazy..." He replies, "I am crazy..." The story follows the struggle of the two parents and the child to re-unite. In films, a "love-story" is often constructed by separating the lovers; this film honors the tradition of the genre, and then gives it a fresh presentation.
Keri Russell and Music Supervisor Anastasia Brown
after receiving the "Golden Starfish" award at HIFF
for "Best music in a film"
Photo by Eric Roffman
What makes this movie special is its appreciation of "the magic of music:" the ability to listen and hear and appreciate the beauty of the sounds all around us, whether it be car horns or rock singing, garbage cans clanking, chimes tinkling, or cellos singing. The music track is a continuous melange of musical styles and sounds, interrupted only by 30 seconds of silence, supervised by Anastasia Brown, and given life by the marvelous acting and direction.
This film can be enjoyed by anyone; it should be seen by everyone.