Ah, the halcyon days of 2001. The tragic death of Aaliyah shocked a nation, a boozy Ben Affleck did a stint in rehab, and a peerless mangler of the English language named George W. Bush had just started bumbling his way into the history books. Austin Chick's August takes audiences on a magic carpet ride back to that bygone age, but the era it's obsessed with began at the tail end of the previous millennium. August is a brooding, boring indie drama about the death of the culture-wide hallucination that was the dot-com bubble, and the moment when countless dot-com millionaires on paper became real-life paupers.
Sporting a deeply unflattering pubic-hair mustache/tiny-goatee combo, Josh Hartnett stars as a cocky online entrepreneur whose world is collapsing as one impractical new venture after another dies an unmourned death. Hartnett is desperate to stay afloat in a toxic business environment, but his arrogance and recklessness threaten to destroy his flimsy empire.
Hartnett's business is called Land Shark, which seems appropriate, since he has the fish's cold black eyes. Unfortunately, he has the warmth, personality, and vulnerability of a shark as well. In a fatally underwritten lead role, Hartnett emerges as neither a sympathetic hero nor a charismatic anti-hero. Mostly he's just an asshole, which makes it hard to care about the fate of him or his screwed-up company. Accordingly, August's few memorable moments luxuriate in schadenfreude. First, Hartnett's would-be master of the universe is dressed down by father Rip Torn, who talks witheringly of visiting Hartnett's business and being struck only by the tragicomic sight of bored employees eating Oreos. In a virtuoso display of how a great actor can transcend his forgettable surroundings, Torn imbues the word "Oreos" with bottomless vitriol. Later, David Bowie contributes an equally indelible cameo as a powerful businessman who takes great pleasure in shattering Hartnett's delusions and putting him in his place. Nathan Larson's jittery electronic score captures the anxious uncertainty of the weird cultural era between the dot-com bust and 9/11, but otherwise Chick's underwhelming exploration of post-millennial angst is as empty and vacant as its protagonist's inexpressive peepers.