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THE SOLOIST (2009) *** movie review by SEBASTIAN

Posted on May 12th, 2009
Posted on May 12th, 2009

It can be frustrating to review a film like “The Soloist” because there are so many missed opportunities, so many moments of frustration in what otherwise might be seen as a masterpiece.

This is director Joe Wright’s follow-up piece to “Atonement”, which I thought was, for the most part an astounding film (one must forgive the ending). So, naturally my expectations were pretty high for this one. A true-life story about loss and redemption starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx? A tale about a musician and a writer who both have fallen from their purer faith and now seek redemption from one another? How could something like this go wrong? Well the actors play everything very well, but the problem lies with how this particular story is told.

The story concerns down on his luck L.A. newsman Steve Lopez (Downey Jr.) who, whilst pondering what he should write about next, encounters homeless, but musically gifted Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx). At first Ayers seems completely cut off from society, but as Lopez digs deeper he finds the mind of a genius trapped inside the prison of a horrible affliction. Ayers attended Julliard, but was forced to drop out of a most promising career due to schizophrenia. Lopez’s quest to interview Ayers turns into a crusade not just to cure Ayers of his condition, but to illuminate the terrible conditions that exist for a veritable city-sized group of homeless people.

This film is about the journey we all take as individuals and the setbacks and triumphs that hold us back and propel us forward. That sounds like it should be the tag-line for this movie. There’s more to this of course. The subject matter isn’t rendered to us in a sappy syrup of sentimentality. Mental illness is given an interesting visual spin here as we sometimes see through the eyes of the stricken Ayers.

Artistic and very moving at times the relationships work very well in the hands of the more than talented leads. Catherine Keener appears in the film, but is all but forgotten afterwards. She’s merely a foil for Downey Jr. to do his Oscar schtick with. If they had left her out of the picture, they would have scored a lot of points.

Robert Downey Jr. is really proving himself to be one of the best actors we have and this fact is in abundance here. He pulls off feats that would be impossible for other actors, but unfortunately the director holds him back with an undue amount of posturing. It’s another case where a filmmaker has a high caliber actor and just doesn’t quite know what to do with him. It could also be that Joe Wright’s skill as a director is too subtle and more suited to the period pieces that have gained him such acclaim. The film is far too long and has a very underwhelming last act. Wright needs to work on sticking those endings.

By far the best element of the whole film, and the glue that holds the entire affair together is Jamie Foxx in his best role yet (although they did need to work on his hair just a bit). Foxx’s performance shows a level of intelligence and maturity that I didn’t think he had arrived at yet. He has proven himself time and time again as a great thespian, but I think he enters a new realm here. He is subtle, yet powerful; he’s like a tiger in the bush, waiting and watching, savoring the fact that he has you in his sights, biding time until he consumes you whole.

There are layers upon layers given to the character of Ayers that simply keep you mesmerized throughout the film. In fact that was one of my gripes with the picture: Ayers story is so fascinating that Lopez’s story suffers for it. I wanted to know more about his agendas. I think the focus on the two characters needed to be tighter; balance these two better, make the conflict feel more genuine and hard-hitting.

There is also a lot of time given to the subject of L.A.’s homeless population, and I think that, for the most part, it works and is thought-provoking. Every now and again it comes across as a little preachy, but mostly it’s handled very well.

Basically, I do recommend this movie to those who love heartfelt and thoughtful dramas and/or fans of these two excellent actors. So much of the movie seems misplaced though.

There is also some really beautifully music on display here.

3 out of 5 stars

Trailer below…

-Sebastian

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