XX/XY director Austin Chick's second feature is set in lower Manhattan during the weeks just prior to 9/11, but the disaster at hand doesn't involve jet planes or World Trade Center. Instead, this stylish, well-acted drama chronicles one once-successful dot-com's efforts to stay afloat in the wake of the Internet boom's bust.
Even in March of 2001, when it seemed the NASDAQ Composite index was in freefall and Internet start-ups were bellying-up left and right, it looked as though Tom Sterling (Josh Hartnett) and Landshark, the dot-com he founded with his brother, Josh (Adam Scott), were still sitting pretty. Within four days of going public, Landshark's stock price had soared 500% and Tom was being touted as a new kind of CEO, a visionary who understands click-and-mortar business models, runs on cocky self-assurance and parties like a rock star. But Landshark proved all-too vulnerable to marketplace realities and five months later, deep in the dog days of August, the sleek, chic surface is cracking and the bottom is about to fall out. Tom remains committed to projecting an image of swaggering success -- an image he himself no longer completely buys. But as he pressures his CFO, Tyler (Carmine DiBenedetto), into buying a company Gulfstream, Landshark COO Melanie Hanson (Robin Tunney), delivers a wake-up call: The company has burned through nearly $100 million, its stock value is reaching record lows and there's no revenue to speak of, just an office full of do-nothings they soon won't be able to pay. Tom, she warns, needs to stop being cocky with potential clients and start thinking in terms of a bail-out. One option: The recent offer made by the stodgy firm of Barton Ogilvie, which is willing to buy up Landshark shares at market value in exchange for 50 percent of the pie. Tom refuses to so much as consider selling out his dream to grasping corporate raiders, but Josh, the operation's brains and the guy with a wife, a child and a new mortgage to worry about, can no longer afford to risk everything on the vision he once shared with his reckless brother. With the fierce determination of a drowning man in total denial, Tom tries to recapture his former glory while reigniting a failed romance with an aspiring interior designer (Noamie Harris).
Aside from the abstract sound of jet turbines that punctuate several early scenes, there's no hint of the coming catastrophe of 9/11; set in its own present, how could it? But as the August days wear on, the audience's knowledge lends an existential futility to Tom's efforts: Within a matter of days, his dreams and those of thousands of other New Yorkers will be dust in the giant storm that's about to blow through the concrete canyons. Written by Howard A. Rodman (JOE GOULD'S SECRET), who delivers plenty of sharp, authentic-sounding e-speak, Austin's portrait of a good-looking, insincere fast-talker who must face his own inner void resembles JERRY MAGUIRE in more ways than one: Like Tom Cruise's performance in that film, Hartnett's intense turn as Tom is equally revelatory. leave a comment --Ken Fox