In 1995, Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) is a cellist studying at the Juilliard School and living under strict rule of her father (William Sadler). Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the lead singer of "The Connelly Brothers", an Irish rock band. Lyla and Louis meet at a party after their respective concerts, and sleep together on the rooftop under a full moon, to the music of a street performer below. The day after, they separate in a hurry, and are unable to maintain contact as Lyla is ushered away by her father to Chicago. Later, Lyla realizes she is pregnant, and after an argument with her father, she is struck by a car. Due to the accident trauma, she gives birth prematurely, and her father secretly puts the baby boy up for adoption, allowing her to believe that her son died.
Eleven years later, Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore) is living in a boys' orphanage outside New York City, where he meets Richard Jeffries (Terrence Howard), a social worker with Child and Family Services. Evan has the savant-like ability to hear music wherever he is, making him a bullying target for the older orphans. Convinced that his parents will find him, Evan runs away to New York City, "following the music" in the hope it will lead him to his family. He finds a boy named Arthur (Leon Thomas III) performing in Washington Square Park.
Louis, who left the band the same night Lyla was struck, now lives in San Francisco as an agent, while Lyla has also given up performing and now lives in Chicago teaching music. Louis reconnects with his brothers at a birthday party for one of the other band members, and after an argument and fistfight over breaking up the band, he decides to reconnect with the woman he now knows is Lyla. Lyla is called to her father's deathbed, where he confesses that her son is alive and in New York, since her father believed that he was only doing it for both him and his daughter and that her son could've destroyed her future. Lyla abandons her father to his fate and heads to New York to look for her son.
Evan follows Arthur to his home in a condemned theater, and is taken in by Maxwell "Wizard" Wallace (Robin Williams), a vagrant, arrogant, abusive and aggressive musician who teaches homeless children music and employs them as street performers. Evan tries playing Wizard's prize guitar, Roxanne (a Gibson J200), and is so good that Wizard gives him the guitar and his old spot in Washington Square Park (both of which were previously Arthur's). He gives Evan the stage name "August Rush" and tries to market him to clubs. Seeing the posters that Jeffries has posted for the runaway Evan, Wizard destroys all the ones he finds, hoping to keep Evan and his gift for his own gain.
On arriving at Lyla's apartment in Chicago, Louis talks to one of her neighbors, who mistakenly tells Louis she's on her honeymoon. Despairing, he ends up in New York, where he gets his band back together. After Jeffries meets Wizard and Arthur on the street and becomes suspicious, the police raid the derelict theatre in which Wizard and his "children" are living. Wizard helps Evan evade the police, telling him never to reveal his real name to anyone. Evan (now "August") takes refuge in a church where a young girl, Hope (Jamia Simone Nash), introduces him to the piano and written music. He picks up both skills so quickly that Hope gets the attention of the parish pastor (Mykelti Williamson), who takes August to Juilliard where he once again impresses the faculty. A rhapsody takes shape from August's notes and homework.
In New York, Lyla goes to Jeffries' office, and Jeffries identifies Evan as her son. While looking for him, she takes up the cello again and accepts an offer to perform with the Philharmonic at a series of concerts in Central Park. August is selected to perform the rhapsody he's been composing at the same concert. However, Wizard, who found out about August's performance by Arthur, interrupts the rehearsal and claims to be his father, and manages to pull August out of the school. On the day of the outdoor concert, August is back in his spot in Washington Square, while Wizard makes plans to smuggle him around the country to play. He meets Louis and, unaware of their blood relationship, they have an impromptu guitar duet. August tells him of his dilemma, and Louis encourages him to go. That evening, with help from Arthur, August escapes from Wizard through the subway and heads for his concert. Louis, after his own performance with his reunited band, sees Lyla's name on one of the concert banners and also heads for the park. Jeffries finds a misplaced flyer for "August Rush" with a picture, and realizing August is Evan, also heads for the concert.
August arrives in time to conduct his rhapsody, which attracts both Lyla and Louis to the audience, where they are reunited. August finishes his rhapsody and as he turns to discover his parents, he smiles knowing that he has been right all along.Freddie Highmore as Evan Taylor / August Rush
Keri Russell as Lyla Novacek, Evan's mother
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Louis Connelly, Evan's father
Robin Williams as Maxwell "Wizard" Wallace
Terrence Howard as Counselor Richard Jeffries
William Sadler as Thomas Novacek, Evan's maternal grandfather
Marian Seldes as Dean Alice MacNeil
Jamia Simone Nash as Hope
Mykelti Williamson as Reverend James
Leon Thomas III as Arthur
Alex O'Loughlin as Marshall Connelly, Evan's paternal uncle
Bonnie McKee as Lizzy
Timothy Mitchum as Joey
Becki Newton as Jennifer
Aaron Staton as Nick
Ronald Guttman as The Professor
Michael Drayer as Mannix
Dominic Colón as Policeman
Written by Van Morrison, Performed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Written by Chris Trapper, Performed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Written by Mark Mancina and Kaki King, Performed by Kaki King
Written by Michael Hedges, Performed by Kaki King
"Raise It Up"
Written by Impact Repertory Theatre, Performed by Jamia Simone Nash and Impact Repertory Theatre
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song
Written by Heitor Pereira, Performed by Heitor Pereira and Doug Smith
Written by J. Stephens, Performed by John Legend
"King of the Earth"
Written and Performed by John Ondrasik
"God Bless the Child"
Written by Arthur Herzog, Jr. and Billie Holiday, Performed by Chris Botti and Paula Cole
Performed by Leon Thomas III
Written by Mark Mancina
The final number with Lyla and Louis begins with Lyla playing the Adagio-Moderato from Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor.
Except for "Dueling Guitars", all of August's guitar pieces were played by American guitarist-composer Kaki King. King's hands are used in close-ups for August Rush.
Composer Mark Mancina spent over a year and a half composing the score of August Rush. "The heart of the story is how we respond and connect through music. It's about this young boy who believes that he's going to find his parents through his music. That's what drives him." The final theme of the movie was composed first. "That way I could take bits and pieces of the ending piece and relate it to the things that are happening in (August's) life. All of the themes are pieces of the puzzle, so at the end it means something because you've been subliminally hearing it throughout the film." The score was recorded at the Todd-AO Scoring Stage and the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Brothers.
August Rush received mixed to negative reviews from film critics. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 37% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 110 reviews. The site's consensus reads: "Though featuring a talented cast, August Rush cannot overcome the flimsy direction and schmaltzy plot." On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 38 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "generally negative reviews".
In a review by USA Today, Claudia Puig commented that "August Rush will not be for everyone, but it works if you surrender to its lilting and unabashedly sentimental tale of evocative music and visual poetry." The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the film positively, writing "the story is about musicians and how music connects people, so the movie's score and songs, created by composers Mark Mancina and Hans Zimmer, give poetic whimsy to an implausible tale."
Pam Grady of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "an inane musical melodrama." Grady said "the entire story is ridiculous" and "Coincidences pile on, behavior and motivations defy logic, and the characters are so thinly drawn that most of the cast is at a loss." Edward Douglas of comingsoon.net said it "does not take long for the movie to reveal itself as an extremely contrived and predictable movie that tries too hard to tug on the heartstrings."
Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars, calling it "a movie drenched in sentimentality, but it's supposed to be. The movie also came to a very sudden end leaving it unfinished."
A few critics suggested that the film is essentially a musical adaptation of Dickens' Oliver Twist.
Despite the mixed reception, August Rush was praised for its music. The song "Raise It Up" was nominated for Best Original Song at the 80th Academy Awards, but lost to Once.
It was announced in November, 2014 that Mark Mancina and Glen Berger were bringing the film to Broadway.