Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.
Release Date: April 24th, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Joe Wright Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Nelsan Ellis, Michael Bunin, Catherine Keener
he Soloist” boasts premium performances from two veteran stars, sensational music (primarily from Beethoven), and a daringly artistic portraiture of genius masked by psychosis. Personal, political, and timely (as Catherine Keener puts it), the story of a gifted musician is both a study of the highs and lows of society and the beauty and ugliness within. Problems in pacing arise as the relatively simple plot is stretched thin, as well as when milking compassion for the incurable cellist isn’t entirely convincing.
L.A. Times reporter Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) is looking for a new story for his column – and even a nasty bicycle spill won’t get in his way. He happens upon a homeless man, Nathanial Anthony Ayers (Jamie Foxx), clearly suffering from mental deterioration, who contently plays a shoddy violin with only two strings. After a couple of phone calls, he discovers that Ayers was an exceptionally talented Julliard dropout – with a presumably fascinating story of descending into destitution. Not without his own problems, namely in his relationship with a fellow Times employee (Keener), Lopez is apprehensive as to whether or not his efforts are helping the troubled musician or exploiting him for a more absorbing newspaper article.
The trailer is inspirational and promises gallant Beethoven tunes and a heartrending plot. But the film itself can only extend the premise over an hour or so of emotional conflict, leaving much of the running time grasping at the opportunity to create sympathy for the lead characters or to connect with the audience. It isn’t disappointing, but it never quite succeeds at bringing the anguish of Ayers to the forefront of the horrifyingly depressing LAMP Community situation in Los Angeles, which plays a strikingly morbid backdrop to the beauty of Beethoven’s symphonies.
Further filling in the gaps are lengthy ramblings by Foxx, who plays insane quite soundly, Lopez’ failure at ousting a raccoon infestation (and subsequent urine jokes) that parallels his frustration with reforming Ayers, a boldly rhythmical representation of genius interpreting music (like “Ratatouille’s” Remy experiencing the sensations of a new food flavor combination), and Stephen Root all but reprising his role as Milton Waddams from “Office Space.” The idea of friendship as a superior solution to actual medication also surfaces. Although based on the book by the real life Steve Lopez, it’s unfortunate that the film concludes on a final printed message that distances viewers from the emotions they should be feeling for the filmic heroes.
– Mike Massie