[Film Review] The Soloist

Overview:

An overall solid film with two very good lead performances and very intriguing direction leads to a rewarding film going experience, even if it is somewhat lacking in certain areas.

Review:

thesoloistThe film is simple in its premise. It’s the true story of Steve Lopez, a columnist for the L.A. Times, who befriends a schizophrenic man, Mr. Nathaniel Ayers, who also happens to be a musical savant.

The movie begins with Lopez (a fantastic as usual Robert Downey Jr.), sort of caught in his own headwinds. He’s seemingly going through the motions, no passion or inspiration when it comes to his writing. After a bicycle accident, he discovers Mr. Ayers in a park, playing a two-stringed violin in front of a statue of Beethoven, and Lopez is mesmerized.

Ayers (played by Jamie Foxx) is a homeless man, but as the friendship between the two begins to grow, we are shown what Ayers is. He’s a troubled man with his own demons, who is consumed by his music.

The two lead performances are remarkable in their entirety. Downey Jr. performs amazingly, as I’ve really come to expect after diving into his recent works in the last year. And, as much as I expect this from him, I don’t expect it from Foxx (when I obviously should). After his terrific performance in “Ray,” and what I thought was a solid performance in “Miami Vice,” I’d thought he had phoned in on a couple of other performances (“Dreamgirls” springs to mind). But it seems that when Foxx is motivated he’s as talented as anyone else. His performance here is complex and layered, and with a character like Ayers it would have been easy to go caricature-y or over act a bit, but Foxx keeps himself in check, and delivers a fantastic experience.

The direction of Joe Wright (“Atonement”) is very interesting to say the least. He has what I would describe as an epic style. Everything is grand without being verbose, and intimate without being too touchy-feely.

It’s an uplifting movie, but it’s not cheesy. It’s direct, it paints the City of Angels as a City of Demons in some points, and it’s very depressing.

It’s not a movie without flaws, because it does have some. Some of the flashbacks weren’t executed well, but I don’t blame anyone for that. It’s something the film doesn’t need, and it just serves to bog the narrative down in some instances. Also, I think leaving Nathaniel as a sort of mystery to the audience would have been more effective, and there are a couple of scenes where he first starts to battle his schizophrenia that are a little bit heavy-handed, and a simpler a approach would have been much more enjoyable.

The music throughout the film is wonderful and classical, and it fits with the story perfectly.

Another problem I had with “The Soloist” was the lack of character development with every character. Even the main character of Lopez isn’t developed well enough for us to really understand his motivations for befriending Ayers. Ayers should have stayed more of  mystery than he does, and what was up with Catherine Keener’s character? She is just there as a link to Lopez’ past, but it would have been nice to have a little more insight into their relationship.

As the movie ends, you’re satisfied, but you feel that as good as it was, it could have been just a little bit better. Had this movie been released in say, Awards Season 2001,  everyone would have fallen over themselves to garner this movie with statuettes. But since it came out in the Spring of 2009, it won’t garner any award buzz, and that’s not a bad thing. Because then it would be an overrated movie, and as it is, it will end up as an underrated gem with fantastic performances, interesting direction and an original story.

Final Words:

It’s a quality movie, and with the summer movie season starting, where action and power are going to rule, it’s a nice change of pace. It’s worthwhile for the two performances and the direction, and leaves you with a good feeling, but also with a feeling that it could have been just a little more.

Score: 7.75/10 (Slightly Above Average)

Acting: 9/10
Character Development: 7/10
Narrative Structure: 7/10
Direction: 8/10

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