From the previews, The Soloist looked like a winner. From director Joe Wright, the man behind such excellent films as Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, comes a film about a reporter who befriends a schizophrenic homeless man who also used to attend Julliard and is a musical genius. The movie stars two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. The movie looked and felt like Oscar bait, so why was it released in April?
Coming to DVD this Tuesday, I got my answer. The Soloist is a good movie. It strikes some chords, presents a good story and offers strong acting from its two leads. It looks pretty and is surprisingly funny in parts. But it also lacks the emotional grip a film like this needs to rise above mediocrity.
Downey Jr. stars as Steve Lopez, an L.A. columnist who stumbles across a homeless man named Nathaniel Ayers who claims he went to Julliard. After confirming that the man did, indeed, go to that prestigious school for a year or two, he writes a column about him. His readers respond generously, with one even donating her cello. From there on out, Steve finds himself tied to Nathaniel, a man who hasn't had a friend in ages. But being friends with someone with mental problems can be taxing, even dangerous, and Steve doesn't know how to put himself on the line emotionally.
The second paragraph of the review pretty much sums this film up pretty well, so there's not much need to go into more depth. Downey Jr. is good in his role, though he feels more like comic relief than a dramatic presence. He cracks jokes, slips on his own piss in the bathroom, et cetera. He brings enthusiasm to the part, but there's not much beyond that. Foxx channels his inner Ray for his portrayal of Nathaniel Ayers, who is also a real person. He captures schizophrenia well, but the problem with the film is that the focus is not on him. Wright alludes to his past through a couple of brief flashbacks, but wouldn't it have been interesting to see this damaged but intelligent soul examined from the time he was a little kid to the present? Instead, Nathaniel is nothing more than an elaborate supporting character.
Ultimately, The Soloist just lacks the dramatic punch that Wright has shown he can deliver. When the end credits roll, you nod, "That was good," and then shrug and put the DVD on your shelf where it will sit collecting dust until you finally decide that it's time to donate it to someone else who will do the exact same thing.
If you like the actors involved, The Soloist may be worth it, but the movie is not the dramatic powerhouse it could have so easily been.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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