Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Soloist

When I saw the previews for The Soloist, I waited eagerly for the release. Then, just when the film hit the theaters, Jamie Foxx had to spout off at the mouth and say some pretty stupid stuff about Miley Cyrus. His comments about a sixteen-year-old making a sex tape and doing heroin and crack jaded me enough to wait for this film on DVD. Thanks Jamie...you saved me some money. The film was not worth full price at the theater.

The Soloist appeals to me because it is a true story that sheds light on mental illness, homelessness (and subtly, the connection between the two). The story begins with a chance encounter between a Los Angeles Times Reporter, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) and a homeless musician, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx). Lopez finds Ayers playing a violin with two strings at the base of a statue of Beethoven. In a disjointed conversation, Ayers runs through a litany of music and location related ramblings before Lopez asks about three names written on a nearby tree. Ayers advises Lopez that those were his friends at Julliard. Seeing the potential for a story, Lopez begins running down Ayers' history. What began as a chance encounter leads to an examination of responsibility and friendship.

The story itself could be a powerful, poignant, moving story about an unlikely relationship that grows into true friendship. There were some decent lines, especially Lopez, near the end of the film, reflecting on what he had taken away from his friendship. The film uses flashbacks to pick up some of Ayers' history, which works to an extent. However, the transition between scenes if often jerky with awkward timing. Maybe it was an attempt to convey mental illness to the audience. If that was the source, it didn't work for me. I found many of the scenes to be ill-conceived. There were some opportunities to force emotion from the audience that seemed to be squandered away. I wanted to be moved but found that the material was too sterile. With subject matter as deep and intense as this I expected much more. I place much of the blame for that at the feet of Director Joe Wright, who has an unimpressive resume.

The weak directing was offset by stellar performances. Jamie Foxx was exceptional as Ayers. His willingness to give himself over to the part was evident. The rambling disjointed thought processes that manifest themselves as a mumbling jumble of words were not unlike encounters I have had with mentally ill people in the past. Foxx convinced me. He was definitely the bright spot in this film. Robert Downey Jr. was also brilliant, with a role that was not as much of a stretch. However, His delivery helped sell the story. The two had good chemistry and were believable. Catherine Keener had a smaller role as Mary Weston, Lopez' significant other. She had a decent drunk scene, but did not have a very significant role in the film. The actors provided this film with the heart that was lacking in the script and directing.

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