September 20, 2010
Review - " Solitary Man " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Actors: Michael Douglas, Mary-Louise Parker, Susan Sarandon,
Danny DeVito, Jenna Fischer, Imogen Poots, Jessie Eisenberg
Like the host of Bernie Madoffs and other executives in slick suits who
have put a villainous face on our current economic woes, Ben Kalmen
is an aging Manhattanite in the business of increasing his net worth by
cheating people. And, like some (but not all) of the real-life swindlers,
he loses his fortune in the process. "Solitary Man," co-directed by
Brian Koppelman and David Levien, attempts to pull back the curtain
on what drives such men, offering a view that people like Kalmen are
In that sense, "Solitary Man" is an honest film, one that believes in
subtle rather than dramatic character transformation. Except for an
opening flashback, the film, which is set in New York, revolves around
Kalmen (Michael Douglas) and his efforts to rebuild his empire of car
dealerships after losing everything when he was exposed as a fraud.
He has a support group that includes his friendly ex-wife (Susan
Sarandon), daughter (Jenna Fischer) and girlfriend Jordan (Mary
Louise-Parker), who has offered to help him open a new dealership by
securing the support of her father, who sits on the board of an auto
company. Things are looking up until Jordan asks him to escort her
18-year-old daughter to an interview at his alma mater, a New
England liberal arts university where the library is named for him.
Kalmen's flaws are up front - he is a misogynist who talks about
sleeping with young women and does it - but he's not pretending to be
anything else. He seems primarily concerned with appearances, and as the remnants of his assets disappear, he continues to
don designer clothing and carry an iPhone. Though some people might question the backwardness of his behavior, it is a
realistic reminder that we aren't always rational beings.
To pull off an anti-hero such as Kalmen couldn't have been easy, but Douglas, who is the focal point of nearly every scene,
mostly succeeds by conjuring the character traits he has made his name on - sleazy and aggressive but fun and charismatic
as well. It's both entertaining to watch him attempt to help shy college student Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg) come out of his shell
and cringe-inducing when he abuses their friendship. We are not made to like or sympathize with Kalmen as much as we are
to pity him as he squanders chance after chance at redemption.
Despite the refreshing approach, the movie isn't perfect. The filmmakers have a tendency to try to cram in too much plot and
overexplain every relationship, including Kalmen's friendship with an old college friend (Danny Devito). In addition, some of
the scenes are unfortunately overdone, including an opening sequence where Michael Douglas walks down city streets as
Johnny Cash's version of the title song plays.
Thankfully, though the action is set in motion by a coming-of-old-age cliché - the heart problem - the directors resist the
temptation to turn health and the hospital bed into the film's defining moment. Instead of a grand epiphany, we are left with a
more uncertain resolution, one uncertain of whether people can actually change.
This is a smaller film after all – much smaller
than we are used to seeing Douglas in. He
has built a career since Wall Street as the
kind of slick salesman, and has done a great
job in a variety of roles. But most of the them,
Douglas’ character seem so confident, so
assured. Here he plays a guy who simply
putting up that front to the world, where all
around him things are crumbling. By the end
of the movie, he may be ready to move on,
to grow up and accept his life for what it is.
For Ben Kalmen, that counts as a small