August 25, 2009
Review - " The Soloist " - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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All of this actually happened, by the way, it's a true story, but it's pure movie magic to see how Ayers is transported by the
strains of Beethoven. "I've never loved anything as much as he loves music," marvels Lopez (to the mother of his child, nice
touch), but watching Foxx's Ayers, many of us could say the same. It kind of brought tears to our eyes.
It was the rest of the film, the part that really went after our emotions, that kept us thoroughly dry-eyed.
This time around, Wright's efforts hit a brick wall when the picture becomes more interested in the sights and sounds of Los
Angeles' Skid Row than in the story it had been telling. The movie's first foray into the homeless community is necessary to
move the plot along, but by the time Wright's camera comes back for a second visit (or is it the third, or the fourth?) the
impression that we're being lectured at gets in the way of our enjoyment of the film. On occasion, it feels too much like a
public service announcement meant to alert us to the plight of the homeless. I certainly don't mean to minimize that sad state,
but the film periodically detours too far from its basic story to show us the poor living conditions suffered by many. The flick
doesn't need to beat us over the head with these moments to make its point; incidental glimpses of the homeless would be
more effective than the approach taken here.
Yes, yes, the homeless are people, too, and deserve just
as much respect as anyone else. Of course they do. Can we
get back to the movie now?
"The Soloist" never regains the emotional power of its early
scenes, and the script, ultimately, doesn't really go anywhere.
Both Lopez and Ayers have found a friend where there
wasn't one before, but the latter is still a paranoid
schizophrenic who can't function in society the way he'd like,
and it's hard to shake the feeling that Lopez, enlightened
though he may be, has profited the most from this
relationship in a manner that isn't entirely honest.
What "The Soloist" is forced to become, therefore, is an
acting showcase nonetheless packed tight with performances
worthy of Oscar consideration.
Downey doesn't break a sweat as the cynical, sarcastic character, but he helps keep the film from turning totally schmaltzy.
We also get a good turn from Foxx, as he resists the urge to make the character cute 'n' cuddly. Ayers shows glimmers of
coherence and enough charm for us to see him as borderline likable, but Foxx's interpretation ensures that we see the
scary/off-putting sides most of the time. Oscar winner Foxx, a warm performer who invites audiences in, pushes them away
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr, Catherine Keener
I've been putting off seeing "The Soloist" for some time.
Everything about it screamed "sappy Oscar bait". We have a
potentially heartwarming "triumph of the human spirit" story with
Foxx in full-on Rain Man mode. I guess I haven't been in the mood
to see a sappy sentimental tear-jerker about people that I have
truly no connection or concern.
The movie starts on a remarkably promising note. As he searches
the streets of LA for a story, newspaper columnist Steve Lopez
(Robert Downey, Jr.) encounters a homeless violinist. Despite an
instrument missing many strings, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx)
plays beautifully but speaks incoherently due to schizophrenia. He
claims to have attended Juilliard, and Lopez confirms this. Our
protagonist is presented as the kind of intellect who has grown
accustomed to the sense of entitlement that his smarts have
earned for him.
When Lopez's laid-off colleagues leave the newsroom with their
boxes of belongings ("The Soloist" is the second movie this year,
following "State of Play," to address the declining state of the
newspaper industry), he scarcely notices them. Why should he?
He's on a good story. The story, or rather the person Lopez is
exploiting, is a homeless man named Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie
Foxx), a brilliant, gifted cellist sidetracked by mental illness who
Lopez meets by chance one day on the street.
here as a man who must remain frustratingly unknowable
to everyone around him. Music remains Ayers' only true
friend, and the conversations they share are private. But
the more selfish of the two characters in "The Soloist" has
to be Lopez. Downey is so deliriously charismatic here, as
elsewhere, that we overlook our reservations about the
character because the actor playing him is so compelling.
"The Soloist" probably runs about 20 minutes too long,
and it veers down too many tangential paths too much of
the time. Nonetheless, when it sticks with its core story, it
becomes surprisingly involving.