Review: The Soloist
Plot: A cynical newspaper columnist, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) befriends a schizophrenic, homeless musician, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who was once a star pupil at Julliard. Based on a true story.
Review: THE SOLOIST was a whole lot better than I expected it to be. The trailers have been running for months now, and to me, it seemed destined to be another insipid, maudlin, wannabe- Oscar bait film. When it got pushed from December to April, I had LIFE OF DAVID GALE flashbacks, and I fully expected it to be a train wreck. Happily, my fears were unfounded.
A lot of credit is due to the director, Joe Wright, who previously helmed two back to back British period dramas, PRIDE & PREJUDICE, & ATONEMENT. THE SOLOIST is a big change of pace for Wright, who drops the BBC aesthetic of his last few films, and adopts a grittier style reminiscent of the kitchen-sink realism of such sixties British classics as SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, & LOOK BACK IN ANGER. A big chunk of the film takes place on L.As Skid Row, and it seems, from watching the film, like a lot of the locations were genuine, or at least realistically re-created. The street people themselves are supposedly the real deal, and this gives the film a distinctly non-Hollywood feel.
However, while the film is gritty & realistic, Wright never makes the film seem like a docudrama. Theres a lot of great filmmaking technique on display here, and at times the film comes across as somewhat stylized- which some might feel is over-wrought, but I really liked. Theres a scene in the film, where Foxxs character watches an orchestra recital, and sees the whole thing in flashes of bold, primary colors that completely blew me away. Another big plus is the way Ayers schizophrenia is presented; as THE SOLOIST is probably the first film that seems to really paint an accurate portrayal of the illness (unlike A BEAUTIFUL MIND).
To this end, Wright is assisted greatly by Jamie Foxx, who proves once again what an excellent actor he can be. Since his breakout in RAY, Foxx has done a lot of quality films, including DREAMGIRLS, THE KINGDOM, JARHEAD, & the underrated MIAMI VICE (although well just ignore STEALTH). Once again, he completely disappears into his role, and is absolutely incredible throughout. This is some of his best work, and had this come out in the fall as originally intended, Foxx would have been a shoe-in for some serious award consideration.
I also really liked Downey Jr., as Foxxs journalist savior. While his role is a lot less showy than Foxxs, he imbues the role with a lot of his trademark, smart-ass shtick, which is a good thing as it keeps the film from seeming too sentimental. The only downside is that the subplot involving his ex-wife/ editor, played by Catherine Keener seemed tacked on (as indeed it was, the real Lopez is a happily married family man). Still, Downeys been having a great run lately, and its nice to see him finally get his due.
Its a shame that THE SOLOIST is getting dumped into theatres in April, as this is not traditionally a time where intelligent, adult films do well. Hopefully, people will check it out, but it probably wont catch on until it hits DVD, thanks in no small part those terrible trailers and TV spots in circulation. Whoever cut them together has done the film a great injustice, as its does not remotely represent the finished product. All of the clichés present in the trailer, from the over-used pop-songs, to the big dramatic confrontations and speeches, are either not in the film, or taken completely out of context. Sure- its a safe, inspirational film, but its an exceedingly well crafted one, and thats not represented at all in the promotional materials. Ignore the trailers, and check it out, as this is probably the last drama well see outside of the art house circuit for a while, with summer blockbuster mania kicking into high gear next week.
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