Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Robin Williams
Nick Castle, James Hart
Stop reading for a moment.
Can you hear the music? Perhaps you hear it in the blowing of the wind, the laughing of a child, the gentle humming of your computer or, quite literally, through the songs on the radio.
But, can you? Hear it, I mean?
The music is always there, for those who will listen is the central idea behind the delightfully entertaining and inspirational "August Rush," the opening night film for the 2007 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis as it begins a brief festival run before its national release on November 21st.
In the film, Lyla (Keri Russell) is an up-and-coming cellist who ends up pregnant after a tender one-night stand with a sulking Irish rocker named Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). When her domineering father (William Sadler) keeps her from meeting him again the next night, both Lyla's and Louis's life journeys are changed forever.
In essence, they stop hearing the music.
A complicated birth leads Lyla's father to forge the paperwork giving up custody of the newborn infant, while deceiving Lyla into believing the infant had not survived.
Now a ward of the state, young Evan lives the next eleven years at the Walden County Home for Boys where he is regarded as a freak for his undying belief that his parents will find him. An encounter with a Division of Children's Services caseworker (Terrence Howard) provides him with some desperately needed hope and, in turn, Evan runs away from the Home and ends up in New York City under the guidance of the Faginesque Wizard (Robin Williams) who, like Fagin, leads a rag tag group of young street musicians with a combination of musical mentorship, tough live, emotional abuse and fear.
Wizard, who bestows upon Evan the moniker of August Rush after he sees the name on a passing truck, quickly discovers the young man's previously undiscovered natural musical talent.
Directed by Kirsten Sheridan (Jim's daughter and writer of "In America") based upon a script by experienced writer/director Nick Castle and James V. Hart, "August Rush" benefits greatly from a delightful cast and John Mathieson's transcendent, fantasy-like camera work that perfectly complements the film's soaring emotional center.
As Evan/August, Freddie Highmore again serves up a reminder that he's one of Hollywood's most gifted young actors in offering a performance that radiates the young man's unshakeable faith and passion and hope without ever allowing us to forget that this is an impressionable young man who simply wants to be found.
Likewise, Keri Russell serves up her second award-worthy performance in 2007 as the heartbroken Lyla. Watching Lyla's transformation from brokenness to once again hearing the music in her life is beautiful to behold. Russell, who became a mother just this year, clearly tapped into her maternal instincts with one of 2007's gentlest, most heartwarming performances.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers brought vividly to mind Glen Hansard's performance in this year's indie jewel "Once," with a performance as Louis that vacillates between romanticism and rage. It's easily Rhys Meyer's best work in years.
In supporting roles, Robin Williams is mesmerizing as the closest thing "August Rush" has to a bad guy. Wizard seems to care about the boys one moment, only to become sharply punitive at the first sign of betrayal. While he preaches eloquently about hearing the music, one gets the sense that occasionally Wizard's music is the psychosis in his own mind that has betrayed him.
Leon G. Thomas III shines as Arthur, one of Wizard's boys who first discovers Evan, and Terrence Howard offers his usual dependable performance as the compassionate caseworker. Young Jamia Simone Nash steals her scenes with an angelic singing voice and commanding stage presence, while Mykelti Williamson does nicely as her father.
It seems a baffling choice that Sheridan, who shared an Oscar nomination for the "In America" script, would defer the screenplay for "August Rush" to writers responsible for such forgettable films as "Hook," "The Boy Who Could Fly," "Sahara" and other cinematic flops, though Hart did also give us this year's "The Last Mimzy." Sheridan, it seems, could have smoothed out the film's sporadic fits of "trying too hard to be inspirational" dialogue and an overall storyline that is a tad too predictable given the film's overall fantastic tone.
From wondering how Lyla's father could possibly pull off the deceit about the baby without anyone in the hospital saying anything to wondering how such esteemed establishments as the New York Philharmonic and Juilliard would allow a 12-year-old boy to simply be taken away by somene claiming to be his father, there were little holes in the storylines fabric that also tore away ever so slightly at the ability to completely surrender to the storyline. The end result was that when "August Rush" reached its climactic moments, the called for tears of joy were replaced instead by merely moist eyes.
Despite minor flaws in the screenplay, "August Rush" is a delightful, inspiring and life-affirming film that deserves to be one of Fall 2007's hits. A perfect outing for parents, children, families and dates, "August Rush" and its ensemble cast hit all the right notes.
Copyright 2007, The Independent Critic