“The SOLOIST” (Robert Downey, Jr. & Jamie Foxx)
A film that is both beautiful & ugly, uplifting & depressing, “The Soloist” is a well-crafted (A hate that phrase, but here, it applies) story of two men from entirely different walks of life, meeting by chance and becoming close friends – Albeit ‘unique’ friends, in that one becomes a reluctant ‘God’ to the other.
The pulse here is that friendship – Some might argue that the pulse, or heart of this film is ‘music’, but I would completely disagree. The music for me became a bit of an annoyance in that it was all ‘classical’; I don’t mind it in small increments, in fact I would say I enjoy it in minimal doses, but it dominates the soundtrack – with the exception of 2 Neil Diamond tunes, which I found odd since the film is based in L.A. & Neil was strictly a New Yorker. Neil’s inclusion does make sense with a whimsical scene in which Foxx’s character puts Neil’s picture up thinking it’s a photo of his new friend.
Robert Downey, Jr. plays Steve Lopez... Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but what did you think when you heard that Robert Downey, Jr. was playing an Australian who becomes a black man? In other words, it doesn’t hurt the story that Downey doesn’t look Latino. Steve is a reporter for the L.A. Times. He suffers a bad fall off his bike in the opening sequence & spends an un-enjoyable evening in the Emergency Room.
Always on the look out for potential stories, Steve hears the plaintive sound of a 2-stringed violin being played... ‘Plaintive’ – I haven’t heard that word since the O.J. trial...
Steve follows the sound & meets an oddly attired homeless man named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. who spells his name out for Mr. Lopez, including both the full version of J-u-n-i-o-r and the shorter ‘J – R – period.’
Nathaniel at first appears to be speaking incoherently, his sentences run together endlessly without a moments pause even for a breath. By listening intently, Steve comes to realize that Nathaniel’s ramblings aren’t jibberish at all, he just runs every word together without inserting vocal commas, pauses or periods.
To Steve, Nathaniel is a future column – especially when he checks out the homeless man’s claim that he attended the prestigious Julliard School of Music at one time.
After Steve’s first article on Nathaniel is printed, an aging musician with arthritis donates her cello to Nathaniel so he can have a real instrument to play. This brings about the problem of owning something of value while living on the streets, so Steve helps Nathaniel find shelter. And so the story goes with each column Steve writes, someone else steps forward to offer a helping hand, including a religious music teacher with an ulterior motive.
Although Steve is aware of the fact that the best conclusion to this series is to have Nathaniel return to a ‘normal’ life, the fact is Nathaniel is not mentally equipped to return to normalcy & thus the friendship is tested – Somewhere along the way, the ‘story’ takes a back seat to Steve wanting to help this man get his life back as a promising musician.
Catherine Keener played Steve’s ex-wife & boss who becomes upset with him for making the statement, “I’ve never loved anything as much as he (Nathaniel) loves music!” Keener does an outstanding job of showing how that line hurts her, even though it is spoken by the man she divorced. She then makes a ‘scene’ at an awards ceremony that reveals how she still has special feelings for her ex & that his profound friendship & acclaim are digging away at her as she wonders why he never put forth that much effort to keep their marriage intact.
Acting wise, Downey continues to excel at his craft – I think he’s fantastic, no reason to keep piling on the accolades – the man can virtually do nothing wrong these days. But I need to speak against those that are calling Foxx’s performance weak – Is it because he said something mean to a spoiled teenaged celebrity on his radio show? (Which he also apologized for saying the next day, folks – How many ‘shock jocks’ apologize for ANYTHING they’ve said until their jobs are threatened?)
Yes, Nathaniel, for the most part is a one-note character that doesn’t have a metamorphic change, ala Steve, but it obviously wasn’t easy nailing those ‘rambling’ yet coherent lines. Don’t give the man crap for what he said outside of the realm of acting – I’m the first one to say he didn’t deserve to win an Oscar for ‘Ray’ – Judge him on the merits of his performance – just think of how difficult it must be to act toe-to-toe with Robert Downey, Jr. and not come out looking like the lesser talent? All things considered, I thought Jamie gave one of his better showings & he deserves a pat on the back for this portrayal. Just like all the hoopla over the Miss America bimbo that spoke her mind about gay marriage – Do you people not realize that living in the United States of America means every person has the RIGHT to say what they believe? I don’t agree with what she said either, but she sure has the right to feel that way. I hope she becomes enlightened & changes her mind, but it’s none of my business if she doesn’t... Sorry, had to get that rant off my chest.
As long as I’m in a bitchy mood, my one complaint about this film was the inclusion of a scene that takes an unwarranted pot shot at atheists. Other than that, I found ‘The Soloist’ to be a very touching film. Just for the record, it comes in as my 4th favorite so far in ’09 - #1 SUNSHINE CLEANING
#2 STATE OF PLAY
#4 The SOLOIST