REVIEW: The Soloist

117 Minutes // USA // Dreamworks
dir. Joe Wright
Friday, April 24th, 2009 – AMC Yonge and Dundas
starring: Robert Downey Jr. & Jamie Foxx

I wrote this review months ago. I don’t know how it slipped my mind to post it on my blog, but it did. Fortunately I recovered it in an email I sent, so here it is now:

Joe Wright’s most unique and least compromised film to date is The Soloist. Using just about every stylized filming technique in the book, Wright creates a vastly broader setting than Los Angeles has to provide – literally space is limitless in Wright’s atmosphere here.

Like his two previous films (aka ‘filmography’) The Soloist is no different in how the script came to be. It is an adaptation of a successful novel and it is also a film about love, but this time around he’s directing a stark and bewildering tale of unrequited, unusual and unnerving love. This is the love (see: worship) of a Los Angeles Times columnist from schizophrenic musician who lost everything in his life due a collapsed and all too fragile mind.

Constantly tragic and touching, The Soloist isn’t the typical inspirational story, but rather a fresh take on the sub-species films like Freedom Writers have created. Simply put, the story is about an LA Times columnist named Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) who is running dry of stories. He’s scrambling to find an interesting article – walking around decrepit streets and rechecking dry leads; not willing to compromise with another anti-war essay. Luckily for him, he finds Nathaniel Ayers Jr. (Jamie Foxx) a homeless man playing in front of a Beethoven statue. Steve approaches this rattled and unsure man as he plays a beautiful piece from a Beethoven composition using only two strings; one of them in tact – the other worse for ware. They start speaking and Steve notices names behind Nathaniel – he asks him who they are. Nathaniel replies “Friends from Julliard”. This is where the story begins.

Somewhere between the deception and selfishness of Steve and the undying admiration and indebted aura of Nathaniel forms a friendship of sorts – from one perspective at least. Many of the same cases have and will be made about Mr. Lopez and his intentions for Mr. Ayers. It starts off obvious that Steve is using Nathaniel for good ratings on his columns, but it’s how the film progresses that sets it apart from these rest of ‘these’ types of films that are typical by nature.

With the emotionally riveting quartets and the occasionally despaired concerto, the film has plenty to offer on an introspective and retrospective into the outer shells and inner psyches of the two main characters.

At first, Steve comes off as a disgusting and pitiful man; he never exchanges his real compassion and care for real friendship with anyone. Not with his ex-wife/boss, Nancy Heathcott (played well, but typically by Catherine Keener) and certainly not with Nathaniel, while that’s all Nathaniel offers Steve for free. But, as the film progresses, you learn more and more about him, and it’s really up to you on how you view this man and his actions – but one thing is for sure, opinions will certainly not one-sided. With this, the already vulnerable Nathaniel is able to draw more and more sympathy from the audience.

One of the major flaws the film has is that it tries to be more eye-opening than it should have. It touches on other subjects (that I liked, but took away from the core of the story with time consuming portions) such as the homeless situation in Los Angeles, as well as mental health care issues. With flashbacks the film touches on the all too familiar racism infused upbringing, and although that does help add to Nathaniel’s back story a little bit, it does come off as unnecessary.

Jamie Foxx delivers his best performance to date as the most unsteady character the year will have to offer, by far. Robert Downey Jr. brings a lot of depth and insecurity to a staple role that many people have seen by now, I’m sure. With a few variations, mind you, but still a similar formula that one won’t be uncomfortable with. The chemistry created by Jamie Foxx in his most ardent and varied role ever and Robert Downey Jr. in his most subtle and humanistic role ever cause for some very compelling and interesting scenes. They certainly hold the film together, as many people knew two capable actors such as them would.

In the end, the film is an unrequited love on a much more subtle (or perhaps not, depending on how you look at it) and unique scale that most people are not accustomed to. It’s an interesting, if not a too shied and overwhelming take on a timeless formula. Certainly worth a viewing for the two lead performances alone. This will certainly be one I will watch again and again; decent entertainment and just very good film making in general. [8/10]

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